Minister selling colleagues on merits of plug-in hybrids after making move himself

Transport Minister Simon Bridges has made the switch to an electric car, saying they are not just for "new age tofu eaters".

Bridges recently purchased two plug-in hybrid vehicles - a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV for himself and an Audi e-Tron for his wife Natalie. His last car was a diesel-powered Hyundai Santa Fe.

"Now that I've done it I wouldn't go back," Bridges said. "To the non-believers out there, I'd say try one."

He is now preaching to his National Party colleagues about going electric.

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"I won't name names, but many of them have moved from sceptical to converts simply because they've driven them."

Bridges wants to raise the uptake of electric vehicles in New Zealand, partly to reduce transport emissions and help the Government reach its climate change goals.

He has been honing his sales pitch.

"They are really fast, they've got great pep. So for anyone out there who thinks that these are cars for new age tofu eaters, they are absolutely wrong."

The Outlander can reach speeds of around 170km/h, and when using electricity only it has a range of around 50km - enough to drive around Bridges' Tauranga electorate all day, but no further.

One of the biggest obstacles to increasing electric uptake in New Zealand is the up-front cost, though that is expected to fall as battery technology develops. The Outlander sells for $69,000 new and the E-Tron sells for $75,000. Bridges said his wife got the flasher car because she "has a different aesthetic to me".

The minister said savings could still be made with an electric car because the running costs were 30c per litre of fuel rather than $2 per litre at current petrol prices. His car costs uses around $280 a year on fuel.

There was one other advantage to an electric car, Bridges said.

"They are quiet. Some people find that a bit strange at first. But I think it makes them incredibly modern. And it's a feature I really like because it means I can hear myself singing when the radio's on."

"Not Abba, though," he adds. "Guns n Roses."

Despite initiatives such as an exemption from road user costs, the number of electric cars on New Zealand roads is small - in the hundreds.

The Government has set a goal of doubling the number of electric cars every year to reach 64,000 by 2021. To do so, it is proposing incentives for electric car drivers, such as possible exemption on fringe benefit taxes and ACC levies, access to bus lanes and high occupancy lanes.

BRIDGES GOES ELECTRIC

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Price: $68,000
Range: 52km (electric only)
Top speed: 170km/h
Fuel economy: 1.8 litres/100km

Audi e-Tron
Price: $75,000
Range: 50-52km (electric only)
Top speed: 222km/h (hybrid), 130km/h (electric)
Fuel economy: 1.6 litres/100km