A silent revolution is occurring on New Zealand's noisy and polluted roads with the move to electric cars.

In 2013, there were just 38 electric cars on the roads, and a measly four in the South Island.

In the month of November last year, a record 465 electric cars were sold, taking the total to 5804.

With monthly growth approaching the 504 cars sold in all of 2015, the Energy, Efficiency & Conservation Authority(EECA) has a goal of 64,000 electric vehicles by 2021.


This figure is still small when compared to the national fleet of more than 3.9 million vehicles, but a step towards a worldwide goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Electric vehicles are part of the solution for decongesting Auckland and reducing pollution," said Mayor Phil Goff, who drives an electric car, at the release in September by car sharing company Cityhop of a second electric vehicle.

Kathryn Trounson, who chairs the Better New Zealand Trust, which promotes electric cars and zero carbon renewable energy technologies, says the biggest limitation to a year-on-year doubling of electric vehicles is getting enough secondhand vehicles from Japan and the UK.

Another impediment, according to the Ministry of Transport, is that New Zealand has one of the oldest vehicle fleets among developed nations - with cars averaging 14 years old - and many New Zealanders may be slow, or financially unable, to replace their cars with modern electric vehicles.

"They are likely to wait until cheaper, secondhand electric vehicles are available," the MoT said in briefing papers to incoming Transport Minister Phil Twyford.

You can put your foot down and at a set of traffic lights you will take on a boy racer and leave him for dead

The Nissan Leaf - chosen as the most reliable car by New Zealand Consumer in November - is the most popular electric vehicle in the country with about 2700 on the road. Most of these are used imports as Nissan does not sell them new in New Zealand.

The Mitsubishi Outlander SUV is the second most popular model, followed by BMW vehicles and Paxter delivery vehicles used by NZ Post. About 300 upmarket Teslar sedan and SUV models, which are priced from about $120,000, have been sold in New Zealand.

Trounson says Kiwis can get behind the wheel of a secondhand Leaf from about $10,000, which will be fun and fast to drive, cheap to run at about $3 of electricity for 100km and good for the planet.

"You can put your foot down and at a set of traffic lights you will take on a boy racer and leave him for dead," Trounson says.

One of the big pluses of owning an electric car, she says, is virtually no maintenance costs with about 20 moving parts, compared to 1600 to 2000 moving parts for an internal combustion engine.

Trounson says the major cost of an electric vehicle is the battery and having to replace it after several years. This is a bit of a hurdle for some people, she says, but easily offset by saving $3000 a year on petrol.

A further complicating issue for electric cars is the limited number of charging stations and the time it takes - up to 40 minutes - to recharge the battery. Queues have been reported at busy charging stations in Auckland and there are anecdotal reports of "charge rage".

Mark Gilbert, who chairs Drive Electric, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to make electric car ownership mainstream in New Zealand, says its still early days and a lot of people are sitting on the fence.

The likes of Tesla, priced at the top end of the market, are helping to build awareness and remove anxiety about the range of vehicles available.

"There are very few models in the market but changes are coming," said Gilbert, the former managing director of BMW in New Zealand, who drives an electric BMW i3.

There are also lifestyle issues to overcome, Gilbert said, like how an electric car will tow the boat or a caravan and even putting the surfboard on the roof. There was also the psychological handicap of swapping the company car from a Holden Commodore to a Nissan Leaf in the driveway, he said.

In Auckland, energy company Vector has provided 18 free rapid charging and nine standard charging stations. Two more are being added shortly in Wellsford and Henderson.

ChargeNet.nz is well on the road towards 105 rapid stations, capable of charging within 10 to 30 minutes, throughout the country by 2019.

With the number of electric vehicles roughly doubling year on year and electric vehicle costs coming down, a Vector spokesman said energy networks must have the ability to cope with a potential surge in demand and from more and bigger battery electric vehicles being charged up at home overnight.

"As the update of electric vehicles increases, it will be essential to monitor the rate of uptake, due to the pressure they place on the electricity network. Electricity distribution businesses will need good information to ensure sufficient build out and upgrades are made to cope with the increased demand on the network," the spokesman said.

Owner's 'magic carpet'

"It's a magic carpet ride" is how Steve Withers describes driving a Nissan Leaf plug-in electric car.

The Auckland IT trainer was driven to an electric car by the inaction on climate change by the previous National Government.

"Sure it saves us money, sure there is less maintenance, but for us it was all about getting rid of the carbon emissions and what we had control over," says Withers, who purchased his first electric car 18 months ago.

He has since upgraded to a top of the range Nissan Leaf import from the UK with a Bose stereo, leather seats and longer driving range that cost $45,000.

The magic ride, Withers says, is quiet and smooth with no gear changing or engine roar. The first gear is drive that goes from zero to 140kph in one smooth acceleration.

"If you go gently you barely feel it and if you put your foot down you definitely feel it. The Leaf is more than quick enough. It has got loads and loads of torque."

Withers says with the enforced breaks on a long trip to recharge the battery allows him to drive considerable distances and arrive feeling rested.

Once electric vehicles become more accessible they will become an "absolute no brainer to be driving instead of a fossil fuel one", says Withers, who has driven his current car 46,000km from Cape Reinga to Bluff and never had so much as a flat tire.

"It always just goes and goes and goes."