Allison is a digital reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times

Special Report: Market 'not ready' for electric cars

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Have Electricity Must Drive. Ross Brown with his plug-in electric car, a Nissan Leaf. Photo/John Borren
Have Electricity Must Drive. Ross Brown with his plug-in electric car, a Nissan Leaf. Photo/John Borren

Tauranga has an estimated 35 electric vehicles registered and the infrastructure to charge plug-in vehicles is powering ahead, but supply is limited.

Tauranga City Council has applied for funding from TECT for an electric car-charging station in the CBD, which would join Bayfair Shopping Centre's two juice points.

But an unofficial, informal Bay of Plenty Times Weekend survey found a lack of available product in Tauranga - not to mention the market being prohibitively expensive and confusing.

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The only option to buy an all-electric vehicle in Tauranga was to order one second-hand from a car importer.

The Nissan Leaf, the most affordable electric car with a range of about 100km on a single charge, could be imported second-hand from Japan for about $20,000.

The Leaf sold for about $40,000 new, but Nissan withdrew it from the new car market in New Zealand due to expense and competition from second-hand imports.

Bryce Campbell, owner of Bryce Campbell Car Sales, said he imported one last year but the market and the infrastructure were not ready for it.

He said the electric car's range, price and acceptability among the public were lacking.

The Leaf's biggest limiting factor was its range, which could not get you to Auckland or Hamilton in one charge, he said.

"We need more charge stations for people to be prepared to buy them, and we need the cars to go longer distance.

"It's a little bit of a chicken and egg situation. The infrastructure needs to be there to sell cars but the cars need to be there to put the infrastructure in."

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The Tesla was the best product out there, Mr Campbell said. With the best technology in the world, Tesla cars could drive 400km to 500km on one charge.

Tesla does not currently have an official dealer or partner here but New Zealand has been added to the list of countries where the latest Tesla car - affordable with a starting price of $50,000 and a range of over 300km - will be made available to purchase in late 2017.

"Once there is everyday pricing, good range and people understand, electric cars will sell well. We may be five to 10 years from that, but it will happen," Mr Campbell said.

Electric car enthusiast and founder of website LoveElectricCars.com Sheldon Nesdale said the current system of buying an electric car was "difficult and cumbersome".

While demand was increasing and Government initiatives to accelerate that demand had just been introduced, supply was lagging behind, he said.

"The electric car market is two-tiered. There's the brand new market, where cars can be 10 to 20 per cent more expensive than an equivalent petrol car, and the second-hand market. I think that's the part we need to create a lot more supply for, because a lot more people are likely to buy a second-hand car rather than a new one in their lifetime," Mr Nesdale said.

He said people putting orders in with importers, importers realising there was opportunity, and media coverage would get the message through to dealerships to stock more electric cars.

"The Government and businesses can do a lot by leading by example. Air NZ has just purchased new electric vehicles and I think it's great. They will experience first-hand how difficult and cumbersome the current system is," Mr Nesdale said.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges said the limited supply of electric cars was part of the reason for the Government's recently released package to push the uptake of electric cars.

"Oftentimes things do start in a wealthier price bracket, like smartphones did, but now more can afford them.

"We are investigating bulk buying electric vehicles for businesses and government, and the idea there is if we purchase a whole lot of EVs that would potentially help see new car companies come to New Zealand because there would be an order of a size that would make it worth their while," said Mr Bridges.

"It also would have a flow-on effect over time, putting a lot more cars in the second-hand market, which is where a lot of New Zealanders purchase."

The Government's plan included incentives to encourage New Zealanders to buy electric cars, including no on-road costs and allowing them to drive in bus lanes.

Better get used to fact that electric cars are way of the future

Real estate agent Ross Brown has a Nissan Leaf, an all electric vehicle. Photo/John Borren
Real estate agent Ross Brown has a Nissan Leaf, an all electric vehicle. Photo/John Borren

Eves real estate agent Ross Brown loves his pure electric Nissan Leaf import from Japan, bought over a year ago.

"I'm a bit of a gadget sort of person - I did a bit of research and I thought at the time it was the way of the future. I thought it would integrate quite nicely with the real estate business where I'm out quite a bit during the day."

The Leaf can do 100km on one charge and Mr Brown does about 70-80km a day.

He plugs the car in at home at night, just like anyone would plug their smartphone in before going to bed.

Only once has he forgotten to plug the car in overnight but then he just popped over to Bayfair where there is a rapid charger, which charges a battery up to 80 per cent in only 10 to 25 minutes.

"I've never been worried about running out of battery. It gives you plenty of warning when you get low," he said.

Mr Brown said you usually had another 20km left after warning was given.

The Leaf even has a special cord that can plug into any ordinary three-prong electrical socket, and on the odd occasion Mr Brown has plugged it in through the window of his real estate office.

He said it was new technology and some people were probably a little reluctant to get into it but it was "absolutely the way of the future". Allison Hess, Photo/John Borren

Where can I buy an electric vehicle in Tauranga?
- Farmer Autovillage has one second-hand Nissan Leaf left, which is the most affordable all-electric car in New Zealand, selling for about $40,000. Nissan pulled the plug on importing the Leaf into the New Zealand market, leaving Nissan dealers without an affordable all-electric option.
- Farmer Autovillage sells the Audi A3 eTron, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), able to go 50km on electricity and about 600km on petrol, with a pricetag of $75,000.
- Bay City Mitsubishi sells the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, a car that travels about 50km on electricity and about 500km on petrol. Entry-level price for the vehicle is $59,990 plus on-road costs.
- Tauranga Coombes Johnston BMW did not have the BMW i3 - a PHEV hatchback able to go 120km on electricity with a petrol range extender of about 340km, priced at just more than $80,000. However, for an interested customer one could be brought down from Auckland for a test drive. For the BMW i8, a sports car PHEV with a pricetag of almost $300,000 and an electric range of about 37km and a petrol extender of about 400km, a customer would have to travel to Auckland to test and buy.
- Car importing dealerships can import second-hand electric vehicles, mainly from Japan. Starting price for a second-hand Nissan Leaf from Japan is $20,000.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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