The Government's proposed scheme to push Kiwis into cleaner, low-emission vehicles includes a charge of up to $3000 on imports of the highest greenhouse gas-emitting vehicles. But these vehicles are a necessary tool for the job, say farmers, and extra charges will hit hard. Susan Botting reports.
Plans to add an up-to-$3000 greenhouse emission charge to the cost of new utes have angered Northland farmers.
"It's concerning this new proposal — which significantly affects farmers and commercial operators - is being put forward without provision of any alternatives," said John Blackwell, Northland Federated Farmers president.
"There should be an exemption for commercial operators who are reliant on the bigger vehicle," he said.
The Government last week signalled its intention to slash the price of imported electric and hybrid vehicles by up to $8000 in a bid to make greener cars cheaper for Kiwis.
But it also plans to slap a new fee of up to $3000 on the import of vehicles with the highest greenhouse gas emissions.
The Government last week opened a six-week consultation period before introducing new legislation in Parliament later this year.
Blackwell said the new charges would add $15,000 to the cost of buying new replacements for the five utes in the family's Kaipara hill country farming and family fencing contract business.
"It's not okay to invent a new tax for those who have no alternatives," he said.
Blackwell's comments come after the Government announced its proposed new scheme could remove more than 5 million tonnes of CO2 from Kiwi greenhouse gas emissions.
He said the Government proposal was, in principle, worthwhile. But it was the aspect related to taxing key commercial vehicles like farm utes he took issue with.
"It's effectively another tax on farmers."
The Blackwell family farming business is based at Okahu, about 30km south of Dargaville with a 550-hectare sheep and beef farming operation finishing 600 bulls and lambing 800 ewes and hoggets annually. Four-wheel-drive utes play an important role in this and other family business.
"They're a key part of the family farming and fencing businesses."
"I brought 3 tonnes of fertiliser home last week, one on the back of the ute and two on the trailer. I'm not aware of an electric equivalent that could do that."
Other business essentials loaded on to their utes included farm quad bikes, posts and battens for fencing by the tonne, big round bales of hay and silage, water reticulation gear such as water and culvert pipes, dog boxes with up to half a dozen farm dogs, a wide range of farm machinery, 200kg wool bales with up to five on the ute (a tonne in weight) and 10 in a towed trailer (2 tonnes in weight) behind, plus much more.
The utes used for the fencing contracting side of the family businesses had permanent equipment boxes on the back that could weigh as much as four tonnes.
"There are 101 things we take on the back of the ute for our family fencing business alone."
One-tonne utes have become increasingly popular in New Zealand, accounting for five of the country's top 10 best-selling New Zealand-new vehicles in 2018 (Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux, Mitsubishi Triton, Holden Colorado and Nissan Navara). Four-wheel-drive options predominate.
Blackwell said their utes' four-wheel-drive functionality was critical for driving over the often-steep land on which the family farming and fencing contracting business operated. Steep hillside gradients of 45 per cent were not uncommon.
The larger, sturdy vehicles provided extra workplace safety for those who used them.
The Blackwells' five four-wheel-drive utes are diesel - four 3.2 litres and one 2.8 litres, used throughout Kaipara and Whangārei districts.
The increasing popularity of one-tonne utes has seen them more widely found in New Zealand cities.
Blackwell said farmers were using their utes for the often-heavy necessary grunt work of commercial business. This was in contrast to many city residents who used their utes for non-commercial purposes.
"The word ute stands for utility vehicle," he said, of the widely-used modern-day heavy farm workhorse.
The Government aims to have 64,000 electric vehicles on the road in New Zealand by 2021. New electric vehicle registrations have continued to climb — in 2018 growing by 50 per cent from the previous year to 5493 new registrations.
New Zealand now has 14,727 electric vehicles (new and used).
Consultation on the Government's proposed cleaner vehicle fleet scheme will run until August 20.