The Government needs to follow the lead of European nations and offer subsidies to incentivise New Zealand motorists to buy environmentally-friendly electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.
That's the firm opinion of Simon Lucas, managing director of Wairau Park-based Mitsubishi Motors dealership, Simon Lucas North Shore - which is selling the new model Outlander PHEV VRX, taking hybrid vehicles into a new generation.
Describing the Government's attitude as "unfortunate," Lucas points out New Zealand is one of the few OECD countries that doesn't offer some sort of subsidy to make it easier for people to buy 'green' vehicles.
He is, however, encouraged by Transport Minister Simon Bridges' suggestion last year of possible exemption from fringe benefit taxes and ACC levies, access to bus lanes and high occupancy lanes for electric or hybrid vehicle owners: "If you could open up the Northern Busway to hybrid and electric vehicles, that would be the tipping point," says Lucas.
While it's still a small segment of sales - some 10 per cent of his Outlander buyers choose one of the two PHEV versions - Lucas sees "a drift" among Kiwi car buyers towards hybrid and fully electric vehicles.
"It's been highlighted by things like the emission scandals, which has brought the ramifications of using fossil fuels to power motor vehicles out into the open. It's been accelerated by Cyclone Cook and Cyclone Debbie and other unusual weather events that have started people thinking about greenhouse gases and global warming."
The PHEV has a fuel-powered engine and a rechargeable battery-powered motor.
When the original Outlander arrived three years ago, it was the first practical plug-in hybrid, standing out in a car market often tagged as gas-guzzling or eco-unfriendly.
The Outlander, as Lucas puts it, "hit the sweet spot of being practical and user-friendly. It made the plug-in vehicle mainstream because it is a mainstream vehicle. It's not a quirky little city car. It is a real 4WD SUV - a family car, a city commuter car and a full 4WD. You can do the Molesworth Track and ford streams and go to the mountain in the snow and ice."
The new model advances the hybrid concept because the technology "always wants to be an electric vehicle" rather than a car with two motors that come into play depending on driving conditions.
"It is a highly technological vehicle that does everything in a very ordinary way and you can choose to engage with the technology as much or as little as you want.
"It satisfies people who want to drive the vehicle because they are concerned about emissions and doing their bit about reducing their carbon footprint - but aren't necessarily interested in the technology - and it also speaks to technophiles and early adopters of technology."
One of the major developments is the Outlander's increased battery power which means, in normal driving, it uses no fuel around town and has a range of about 50km; most commuters or school-run mums would be petrol-free. When the battery runs flat the Outlander uses the petrol engine to drive a generator to re-charge the batteries.
"When I get home, I just plug it into a standard electrical socket. It takes about six and a half hours, so overnight, to charge. The cost at standard rates amounts to $1.40-$1.60 to get a full charge. So it's cheap to run, about 10-15 per cent of the standard combustion engine vehicle," says Lucas, who uses the Outlander as his family and drive-to-work car.
Given the car actually produces much of its own energy as it drives along, perhaps a mind-shift is needed there: instead of "fuel consumption" figures, it might be better to talk about "fuel generation" capacity.
Another innovation, missing from the earlier model, is a plug allowing the use of the increasing number of fast-charging stations popping up around the country, particularly in Auckland.
Driving the Outlander, the first thing you notice is the noise - there isn't any. The electric motor is so quiet the car has a buzzer sounding outside so people know it's around. That's a safety feature Lucas appreciates in parking buildings, near schools and at supermarkets.
Inside, it's a calmer drive without the engine noise and vibration of a combustion engine and there are no tricks to driving the car on city streets or the motorway.
"You need to know where the start and stop button is and how to put it into drive, how to put it into reverse and how to put the handbrake on. That's it, that's all you need to know," says Lucas.
It's a stable and sure-footed vehicle to drive; it carries about 250kg of extra weight beneath the seats in the lithium-ion batteries and so has a far lower centre of gravity than a typical SUV.
Going downhill the "regenerative braking system" actually reverses the electric motor, recharging the batteries. That sort of technology changes driving habits, says Lucas.
"You tend not to follow so close on the motorway because you don't want to hit the brake pedal hard enough to use your brake pads - regenerative braking occurs when you lift your foot off the accelerator and when you apply the brakes gently."
Base price: $67,990.
Powertrain and performance: 2.0-litre petrol four, 88kW/189Nm, dual electric motors with lithium-ion battery pack, 60kW and 137Nm/195Nm front/rear, 4WD, Combined economy 1.7 litres per 100km, electric-only range 54km (claimed).
Vital statistics: 4695mm long, 1710mm high, 2670mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 463 litres, 18-inch alloy wheels with 225/55 tyres.
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