Government drives change to e-cars

By John Maslin

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INCENTIVES: Oslo taxi driver Trond Gustav Somme drives an all-electric Tesla, and he says it's ideal for the job.
INCENTIVES: Oslo taxi driver Trond Gustav Somme drives an all-electric Tesla, and he says it's ideal for the job.

Electric cars are being touted as the way of the motoring future and last week the Government made moves to get Kiwis into them.

In an interview with the Chronicle before last week's announcement, Transport Minister Simon Bridges said he was convinced electric vehicles - EVs or e-cars - were the way of the future.

Mr Bridges has made no secret of his preference for EVs as the vehicles for New Zealand roads and told the Chronicle that at some stage there would be a government package in place to "nudge" people into EVs.

"I'd hope to be able to make an announcement on something sooner rather than later."

In fact the announcement came last week with the Government outlining a bold package aimed at getting more motorists behind the wheels of EVs.

"Obviously there's a real buzz around electric vehicles at the moment. Look at the Tesla cars. They've poured billions into developing a fully electric vehicle before they've even built them."

He said electric vehicles offered "remarkable" advantages over petrol especially since they can be refuelled from renewable energy sources such as hydro-electricity.

"They will have a significant effect in our country because they can tap into a home-grown energy source from our own electricity supply," he said.

But if people go electric, and they don't need to use petrol, it will have a significant impact on fuel tax. So how long before the Government starts looking for alternative sources of revenue from those using EVs?

The minister said there was no question of the Government introducing specific road user charges for EVs at this stage. In fact they will remain exempt from any sort of special tax until at least 2020. But that's only four years from now.

"This is new technology and we want to encourage it because it will transition our country into a lower carbon economy. And we've got to remember that at this stage EVs are generally more expensive to buy than other motor vehicles so every little bit helps."

He said the beauty of EVs was that they could comfortably cover the sort of daily Kiwi commute of 20km to 30km.

"We've seen a rapid growth in public charging stations go up around the country. There's been something like 140 new ones in the last few months. And I'm expecting an upward curve in technology will see a corresponding downward curve in EV prices. I think it's very much a matter of watch this space."

At the moment there are more than 1000 electric cars registered on our roads but the Government's package targets much greater numbers than that.

Mr Bridges said "a basic lack of choice" was holding the market back but he was confident the options would "open up".

"But with a substantial government package in place we'd expect manufacturers to move and make the most of that."

As for the minister's preference, he was looking at getting into an EV very soon but hadn't decided on a vehicle.

There are not a lot of fully electric cars on the market yet. Most are a hybrid mix of battery-fuelled electric motors working in tandem with a petrol engine. They're not cheap but - currently at least - are far cheaper to run. The issue is their range. A full charge still doesn't get you very far, hence the need for plenty of charging stations around the country.

But as far as getting motorists into EVs, other countries have created incentives for electric vehicles, most notably Norway.

After more than a decade of government support, earlier official projections estimated there would be 50,000 e-cars on Norway's roads by the end of next year. In fact that number was reached in April last year. By September it had grown to 66,000 all-electric cars, and an additional 8000 gasoline-electric hybrids.

The cost of operating a car in Norway can also include pricey parking fees, high tolls for bridges and tunnels, and expensive ferry tickets. So e-cars were exempted from those, too. And it doesn't hurt that fully charging a car battery from the grid costs the equivalent of only a few dollars, while gasoline retails in central Oslo for more than $6 a gallon.

On average, charging an electric vehicle at home in New Zealand is equivalent to buying petrol at 30 cents a litre.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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