Chalk up Parkable CEO Toby Littin as unimpressed by the Government's latest electric vehicle push.
"The so-called greening of Government by leasing 422 electric vehicles is a tiny drop in a very large and leaky bucket," Littin says.
"This represents less than 3 per cent of the Government fleet of 15,000-plus vehicles."
The electrification of the public service fleet, announced by Climate Change and Associate Environment Minister James Shaw on Friday, is part of a broader push for a carbon-neutral public sector by 2025.
The policy will be supported by some $41.8 million in new EV spending in Budget 2021, with a total $67.4m ear-marketed for achieving the 2025 goal.
A discussion paper released by Transport Minister Michael Wood and Shaw the same day, proposes a wider push for NZ as a whole to be net carbon zero by 2050, in part by phasing out the import of the petrol and diesel vehicles by that date.
"The transport sector currently produces 47 per cent of New Zealand's CO2 emissions and between 1990 and 2018, domestic transport emissions increased by 90 per cent," Wood said as the set of potential policies was released.
The discussion document proposes that policymakers follow three broad themes: Changing the shape of our towns to make them more attractive to public transport, walking and cycling; decarbonising NZ's light vehicle fleet, and making freight networks more efficient.
It also talks up a continued fostering-innovation role for the EECA (Energy Efficiency & Conservation Authority). The Crown agency that's been allocating up to $6.5m per year since 2017 to promote EV uptake through Low Emission Vehicles Contestable Fund.
Litten says the Government's broad goal to promote EVs is a good one, but lacking in ambition. The 2050 goal for banning the importation of ICE (internal combustion engine) cars is barely a stretch, given manufacturers such as Volvo and VW have already said they will stop production of pure petrol cars after 2030.
And Littin says the Government is targeting its limited incentives at the wrong areas.
The EECA has allocated most of its EV incentive funds to car-share companies and public charging networks, the Parkable boss says - when, because it takes several hours to charge, most electric vehicle owners charge at home or at a work carpark most of the time.
In 2016, when then transport minister Simon Bridges created the EECA fund (since enthusiastically adopted by the current Government), the goal was set of 64,000 EVs on NZ roads by the end of 2021.
With that date just over six months away, we're sitting at 23,000 EVs on our roads, with uptake in fact slowing recently.
Figures from the Motor Industry Association show that while sales of hybrid petrol-electric cars increased last year, pandemic pressures saw sales of more expensive pure-electric vehicles fell by 338 to 1519 with and PHEVs (plug-in hybrids) declining 170 to 756.
Bridges also suspended road user charges for EV owners, at least until the 64,000 target was hit - a measure that has been maintained to this day, and supported a law change for EV owners to drive in bus and T2 lanes - an incentive that crumbled after a brief trial, when National was still in power, after Waka Kathi (the NZ Transport Agency) and Auckland Transport raised issues, then polled EV owners, who majority voted against the measure.
Parkable boss Litten thinks we need to look offshore, to countries with higher EV uptake, for ideas.
His startup, which began in Auckland but now operates across NZ, Australia and China, started with an app for renting out, or hiring, any spare space that could be used as a car park - or for earning extra coin from a work car park after hours. It later expanded to include sensors-based services for larger organisations (including its part-owner, Spark) to manage "hot-desked" and guest carparks.
And now it's released software for managing EV chargers - but Littin says different regulatory environments mean it's easier to sell its new product in the UK than at home.
Obviously he's looking at the world through Parkable glasses, but Littin's argument makes sense.
"Overseas experience shows that the most common place to charge EVs is the home, and second most common is the workplace," he says.
"There's a gap in the Government's EV focus, as businesses aren't being properly incentivised to provide EV charging for their staff and visitors."
Litten adds, "Meanwhile in the UK, the government has subsidised EV purchases as well as public, workplace and home-based chargers. They have given grants for the purchase of electric cars, motorcycles, mopeds, vans, taxis and trucks, and will also pay for the cost of installing a home vehicle charger.
"On top of this, they have banned the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030. This policy boosts the requirement for EV infrastructure and kickstarts private spending, rather than relying on government subsidies."
Many US states offer subsidies of US$7000 or more for buying an EV, and even conservative states like Georgia have mandatory requirements for a minimum number of charges for new carparks.
The UK government will pay for up to £6000 toward the price of an electric car, chip in up to £7500 to the cost of an electric van or put £16,000 toward the cost of an electric truck. Brits can also get £350 toward the cost of installing a fast charger at home.
It remains a moot point if EVs are the answer. Despite their potential to slash emissions, public transport bloggers on the left have complained that EVs are just "replacing a car with another car" and will leave cities clogged and disincentive use of buses and trains that they see as the best route to cutting carbon. And on the right, commentators like Troy Bowker have questioned the economics of EVs, and pointed out the thorny issue of disposing with their environmentally unfriendly lithium-ion batteries - which in turn have sparked a boom in "dirty" lithium mining.
And then there's the possibility that EVs could be eclipsed by hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles - not an immediate danger at the light-vehicle level, given there's no equivalent of charging at home with hydrogen, but an area of multi-billion dollar investment.
But if NZ is going to set ambitious EV uptake goals, it should have policies in place to achieve them, Little says.
"It seems as though New Zealand is modelling its EV policies on coal-heavy Australia and falling further behind the rest of the world, for example the UK, Germany, and Finland, where a clear vision for the future has been articulated and supported with long-term, easily understandable policy positions that allow businesses to plan and deploy capital in the right direction."