Electric vehicles are being driven further on average than their gas-guzzling counterparts, a new survey shows.

The latest data from an ongoing survey of more than 1150 EV owners around the country showed EVs were averaging 14,100km each year – a quarter more than the average 11,500km per year clocked up vehicles with combustion engines.

In New Zealand, the average single trip away from base and back again was 48km, while the NZ Transport Agency estimated the combined distance of all the day's trips in a combustion vehicle averaged 28km.

One Nissan Leaf, with a 30kWh battery, was travelling 45,000km each year.

Advertisement

The highest average distance travelled by EVs was recorded by the Mitsubishi Outlander, a plug-in hybrid model that averaged 19,000 km per year.

At the lower end was the Nissan eNV200, the only readily available second-hand electric van for light commercial use in New Zealand so far.

Its average travel per year was just 9400km.

The figures didn't surprise researchers running the citizen science project that collected the data, dubbed Flip the Fleet.

"Many EV owners also retain one of their old combustion vehicles as back-up, but then concentrate most of the family's travel in the EV to save money and enjoy a better ride," said the project's statistician, Daniel Myall.

"Families often run a simple rule. Whoever is going furthest that day, gets to take the EV.

"That way the EV becomes the family workhorse and the household's transport costs and transport emissions are minimised."

As of last month, the fleet of hybrid and pure electric vehicles on New Zealand stood at 10,140 – compared with just 137 the same time in 2013.

Around half of the EVs were based in Auckland, another quarter were based in and Wellington and Christchurch, and the rest were scattered around the regions.

"EVs are particularly good for people with a reasonably long commute to work," Myall said.

"We think some people are doing the sums and realising that even though a typical EV costs more to buy, they can quickly regain that through avoided petrol costs."

Flip the Fleet estimated that a commuter doing a 100km round trip to work, five days a week, was saving $90 per week in fuel and maintenance costs.

"The next big breakthrough we are looking forward to is an inexpensive light commercial electric van that can travel a decent distance with a heavy load of passengers or gear on board," Myall said.

While pure EVs had ranges typically starting at 100km and were still hampered by fears of "range anxiety", most of the country now had charging stations every 75km of highway.

Kathryn Trounson, chairperson of the Better New Zealand Trust, said the data showed EVs could save money while reducing the country's carbon footprint, and also busted "the myth that EVs aren't a practical substitute for a conventional car".

The survey's organisers have argued that, if more than half of new vehicle registrations were to be electric by 2025, cash incentives would be needed to boost uptake.

The higher cost of buying an EV was still putting many people off – despite their lower operating costs paying off in the long run – so finding a way to subsidise the initial purchase price would be essential, they said.

New Zealand had so far built its EV fleet mainly by importing second-hand cars from Japan and the UK – the only readily available sources of left-hand drive EVs – and the country had thereby indirectly benefited from subsidies paid to the original owners by the Japanese and UK governments.

Most EV owners taking part in Flip the Fleet favoured financial intervention suggested by the EV owners was a system of "feebates" where highly emitting combustion vehicles were penalised by having to pay higher registration fees.

This additional fee – recently proposed in a Productivity Commission report looking at how to shift to a low-carbon economy, and now being considered by the Government – was then transferred and distributed across the lower-emitting vehicles like hybrids and electric vehicles.

The Government's efforts so far have included supporting the roll-out of new charging facilities, funding awareness campaigns and a contestable innovation fund, reviewing tax depreciation rates, and looking at special highway lanes for EVs.

Its proposed Zero Carbon Bill assumed EV uptake – potentially reaching 95 per cent of vehicles by 2050 – would make a key difference in slashing emissions over coming decades.