Would you ever drive an electric vehicle?

If you think yes, you're not alone - new research has shown that most Kiwis feel "positive" about EVs and are willing to drive one in the future.

Figures cited in work published today by a University of Otago researcher also found 30 per cent of New Zealand motorists would either "likely" or "definitely" buy one if the purchase cost was the same as a petrol or diesel car, while another 40 per cent would consider it.

Study leader Dr Rebecca Ford, of the university's Centre for Sustainability, said although take-up of the cars has been relatively slow - as of May, there were just 660 on our roads - they would play an important role in our future transport landscape.

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That said, her study hit upon multiple barriers for the technology, from obvious hurdles like cost and infrastructure to more straight-forward issues like a general lack of awareness around them.

"EVs are far more cost-effective to run than cars that use diesel or petrol," Dr Ford said.

"The challenge is in overcoming the obstacles preventing many New Zealanders from making the switch."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the biggest problem was the "substantial" upfront cost attached - BMW's new premium-range i3, for example, has a drive-away price tag of $83,500.

However, second-hand Nissan Leafs could be snapped up online for around $30,000.

The other main barriers were vehicle range and charge time - the age of the vehicles were considered least important, suggesting Kiwis would be happy to buy used EVs.
Dr Ford said overall, the future appeared positive for electric vehicles in New Zealand.

"There appears to be a strong latent appetite for electric vehicles, and the biggest barriers to uptake - cost, range and charge time - will be resolved as EVs continue to get cheaper and more advanced," she said.

"The threat is that we get left behind the rest of the world because we take up EVs too slowly. And that would be a pity, as we have plenty of renewable electricity to power them, and Kiwis are keen."

Dr Ford said the clean and green factor also appealed to us.

"Some people are taking on that environmental stance, and just from my own experience, with the Ministry for the Environment's recent round of consultation around climate change targets, it does seem this is something that touches the hearts and souls of a lot of Kiwis."

Her research proposed a range of ways to overcome stumbling blocks.

These included setting up charging stations at regular intervals, with fast charging technologies, so drivers could be certain they will be able to get where they want to go without so-called "range anxiety".

Government and commercial fleet companies could purchase a bulk of EVs, allowing them to come on the market as second-hand vehicles in a few years' time.

Conventional cars could be converted to EVs through retrofitting, while arrangements for at-home charging could be put in place to avoid too much pressure on the electricity grid.

Lastly, work was needed to improve consumers' knowledge and familiarity around EVs, and this could be done with on-road demonstrations.

Non-Government group Drive Electric was already working with the Electricity Networks Association on the nationwide Renewables Highway initiative to install electric charging stations across the country.

Its chairman, former BMW New Zealand managing director Mark Gilbert, said the group had found positive interest among fleet companies in an event earlier this year promoting plug-in technology.

Mr Gilbert was well aware of the barriers flagged by Dr Ford, but was just as upbeat about the future.

"I think the other thing we have to remember is that New Zealand is so well endowed with homes with garages, and many people who go to work have car parks - these can be transitioned to venues for charging EVs without too much of a huge investment in infrastructure," he said.

"Everyone also tends to look at the transaction price of these cars, but if you advertise the whole-of-life cost, and look at the cost of electricity versus the cost of fuel and residual values, there may be a bigger upfront cost with EVs but overall it's probably going to equal out."

A recent article published in the New Zealand Automobile Association's AA Directions magazine described New Zealand as an "ideal country" for EVs, due to the abundance of naturally-generated energy here.

The article noted how approximately 70 per cent of our total energy is produced from wind, geothermal and hydro, with fossil-fuelled stations making up the difference.

The Government had also shown its commitment to reducing greenhouse gases by exempting electric vehicles from paying road user charges up to 2020. "Rebates for purchasing EVs would also encourage a shift away from fuel burners and into the electric future," the magazine stated.