Thieves on the hunt for so-called "nana cars" are hitting heartland New Zealand - where rising numbers of the humble Mazda Demio are being nicked in Horowhenua.

Central District Police said they have noticed a marked increase in vehicle thefts over the past few months, particularly small, non-descript hatchback popular with pensioners.

Senior Sergeant Steve Crawford said 16 Mazda Demios had been reported stolen in the past three months in the Manawatu region, which follows a trend across the country.

Waikato Police said earlier this year Mazda Demios were becoming a sought-after vehicle for thieves, saying dozens had been stolen.


"Bad guys think they are great. Because apparently we don't look at nana cars while we are driving around. Incorrect, but alas, they are stealing them anyway," Waikato District Police posted on its Facebook page at the time.

Until 2015, the number of Demios stolen had been in the single figures. But, in the 12 months between February 2016 and February 2017, 55 had been stolen - a number that has climbed even higher in the eight months since.

Many of the thieves were aged 17 or younger.

Intelligence analyst Olivia Cleaver said the cars were seen as an easy target, without the immobilisers or security features of newer vehicles.

She said the cars had also been featured in the video game, Grand Theft Auto, which could mean they were perceived as "cool nana cars".

Police are asking hatchback owners to make it as difficult as possible for thieves by parking the cars out of sight, keeping them locked and not leaving anything on the seats of in view.

"There are some steps the public can take to deter offenders from taking their vehicle, such as fitting an immobiliser, a steering lock, or a vehicle alarm," Crawford said.

"Also, where possible, park in a secure area. Offenders will often walk past a vehicle they see as difficult to steal, or will take them time to break into as this will increase their chances of being caught."

If you see anyone acting suspiciously in or around any type of vehicle, contact the police immediately on 111. Or you can contact police anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.