A fork in the road for EVs?

As a corporate member of Drive Electric, Smartrak looked forward to DE’s State of the Nation Report: E-Mobility in New Zealand 2023. With 2023 drawing to a close there was plenty to take stock of as interested organisations gathered at DE’s Auckland headquarters for the Report’s official launch.

A year of celebrations and concerns

During 2023, and earlier, the continuing growth in EV adoption and Smartrak’s own product development commitment to supporting EVs in fleets were part of an upward trajectory to be celebrated. Unfortunately, alongside these good-news stories there were also increasingly loud bells tolling for the planet, with a catalogue of temperature records broken through the year, alongside regular floods and fire storms.

Fortunately, the Report had lots of heartening stats on the progress that’s been made worldwide and in New Zealand to purge carbon from transport.

  • Global sales of EVs hit 10.5M and snagged 14% of the market in 2022
  • The EV model range grew 39% over 2 years
  • Average EV range has increased 101%
  • NZ’s EV fleet has grown 70% in just the past year.


The 78-page download is packed with information, including chapters on micro-mobility, heavy transport, EV charging, maritime and aviation transport. There is also a section on New Zealand Policy which lays out considerations DE believes are important to lifting the percentage of EVs in the national fleet beyond 2%.

This section is undoubtedly laying the groundwork for discussions DE expects to be having with the new Government’s Minister for Transport, Simeon Brown. Before the election. DE listed ‘Certainty and Consistency Over The Long Term’ as an import point for consideration, and pointed out that the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Act had been agreed with bipartisan support. However, it's obvious that previously held expectations will have to be adjusted.

For example, before the election, Christopher Luxton was candid in his opinion of the Clean Car Discount or ‘Ute Tax’, saying: “National does not believe New Zealanders who can afford a brand-new electric car need a subsidy from taxpayers to buy it. The move to EVs will happen without subsidies as those who can afford new cars choose to reduce their personal carbon footprints and their dependence on fossil fuels,” Luxton went on to say: “The subsidies funded by Labour’s Ute Tax don’t go to low- and middle-income New Zealanders, but to people who can already afford to buy an EV. And it is deeply unfair to tax work vehicles like utes and vans that farmers and tradies need to do their jobs in order to subsidise the cost of EVs.”

That’s a pretty clear opinion on the Clean Car Discount, and before the election, National brought some clarity to the Discount’s demise by stating the scheme will be scrapped by December 31, 2023, which the new government subsequently did.

DE will undoubtedly be viewing the end of the discount with disappointment and is continuing to advocate that an alternative incentive is explored, given the obvious benefits to the economy and the environment from electrification.

The end of the Clean Car Discount is to be lamented, however, from Smartrak’s point-of-view it’s any changes to the policies mandating lower emission fleets within the government sector that we will be focussed on. While government fleets are a small percentage of the national fleet, compared to commercial and private fleets, we believe they still offer valuable examples of positive change and are an important proving ground for emerging technologies and fleet management strategies.

We have witnessed a strong commitment from local and central government customers to lowering fleet emissions, which is great in the first instance, and likely a positive outcome for the national fleet in the long term. Most New Zealanders buy second-hand cars and more EVs passing through government fleets means more affordable EVs when these vehicles are retired. We have also seen how councils are leading by example; bringing EVs into their fleets and then expecting their outside contractors and suppliers to follow that example.

As the Report points out: “We are a small, right-hand drive market, with a high rate of vehicle ownership and a relatively old fleet. A high-emission vehicle entering New Zealand today will continue to impact our fleet for nearly two decades.” Short-circuiting that long-term problem by using government fleets as an incubator for private EV ownership should be seen by the government as a good move.

Elsewhere, the Report looks forward to a lower-emissions transport sector that reduces its reliance on cars for transporting people across short distances, with electric micro-mobility, ride-sharing, and mobility-as-a-service models posited, along with a lower-emission, more efficient public transport system. Investment in public transport is absolutely a factor that will be coming under intense scrutiny with the new government, which has already signaled that projects such as Auckland’s light rail, Let’s get Wellington Moving, and numerous cycle lane projects will not be going ahead.

Successful advocacy here will no doubt depend on receptive people in councils, although the price tags for meaningful change may limit aspirations to more bus lanes and perhaps more electric buses.

We read the section on Heavy Electric Vehicles with a thought to the efforts of Jump Charging as they work towards building charging networks that will be suitable for big trucks to use (driving through rather than pulling into a bay that’s too short for them). We hope that Alex Watson at JC will be adding his name to the list of people waiting to talk to Minister Simeon Brown. National’s plan to roll out 10,000 chargers by 2030 could also include a truck-friendly design element that lifts our electric truck fleet above the 141 currently on the road.

A Report topic that Smartrak has also been diving into concerns the challenges faced by electricity networks as they upscale to meet EV demand. Our talks with a range of EV charging infrastructure providers highlights the vital role smart chargers will play in moderating demand and avoiding costly infrastructure upgrades for both the networks and their customers. We’ve brought the insights together in a webinar that we are hoping to release shortly. From the Report, it was interesting to read that 82% of EV charging in NZ is done at home while 76% of EV drivers say they have used public chargers. Are they topping up when they are out and about because anything below 100% in the battery leaves them anxious or are they confident in their EV’s battery capabilities and journeying beyond home range? More research will tell.

In conclusion, this is a report that’s well worth a read, whether you’re an EV driver, fleet manager, or policy maker. You can download a copy here.

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