Comment: Any 'feebate' tax on larger, petrol vehicles shouldn't come on to rural households when there are currently no EVs that work for farmers, writes Andrew Hoggard, Federated Farmers climate change spokesman.
Earlier this month I made the mistake of upsetting what I have now discovered is one of the most vociferous groups in the land – electric vehicle owners, in particular those with Nissan Leafs.
My mistake was to comment to reporters that the 'feebate' scheme to subsidise the purchase of EVs needed to be rural-proofed.
Firstly, I wasn't for a second being scornful of EVs. They're a very smart option for New Zealand because we have a largely renewable electricity generation sector, unlike many other nations which rely on burning coal. But the fact is, right here, right now, EVs are by and large an urban solution.
Any feebate tax on larger, petrol vehicles shouldn't come on to rural households when there are currently no EVs that work for farmers.
Read more from Federated Farmers here.
I did jokingly point out that it was a bit hard to fit a bundle of strainer posts on the back of a Nissan Leaf, which was what set the Leaf owners off - though I note none of them went down to their nearest Goldpine outlet to prove me wrong.
The point I was attempting to make that got drowned out in the ensuing Twitter-rage was that rural folk have longer distances to travel so vehicle range is an issue, and the charging stations become important.
For example, my family has two vehicles, a Ford Focus hatchback that is well over a decade old, and a Toyota Hilux.
The Focus is what I use to get to Wellington for Federated Farmers business. That's a round trip of just over 350km.
Sometimes I take the Capital Connection train, but other times the timing of my meetings don't match with the train departure and arrival times.
The Nissan Leaf has a range of 135km. Via SH1 I have options at Otaki and Levin to charge, but the Otaki to Wellington and back stretch is around 170km, so an additional charge in Wellington would be required.
Even quick recharge cycles take 10 to 30 minutes so I'm guessing I'm now looking at an additional 45 minutes minimum per trip just to charge, much longer if someone else is in queue in front of me.
There are vehicles with longer ranges that could let me do it in on one charge but they cost a hell of a lot.
If car parks in Wellington were also equipped with slow charging then cars like the new Ford Focus EV, with a range of 180km, become an option … just.
Then there's the type of vehicle we need. Utes are a staple for many farming families. When you head to town, it's invariably not just for groceries but also farm supplies.
Utes are also the modern workhorse on the farm. Electric utes are being developed, but they're not on the market yet.
If I was to take our current double cab Hilux down to Manawatu Toyota and ask for a trade-in with the EV Hilux, I would probably be told to come back in a few years.
Also, these utes need to be of the sort that are used on farm - flat decks, 4wd, etc.
One ute being talked about as a viable alternative and coming soon has such a poor safety rating that, sorry, I'm not putting my family in it.
A final thought – when we reach this future where I have EV road vehicles, EV motorbikes, EV tractors and other farm vehicles, then my business becomes a whole lot more dependent on electricity lines.
In adverse events many farms find themselves without power for up to a week.
Maintenance on power lines in rural areas is often poor. Will that sort of infrastructure cope with farm vehicle charging?
All this is what rural proofing is supposed to be about - checking that the policies are practical, sensible and affordable in rural NZ in the same way as urban NZ.
I see the possibilities for future electric vehicles with a whole range of smart, self-driving tech as a real positive for farmers.
But we need to ensure our infrastructure is up to the task, and that we're not penalised until workable EV solutions are available for farms and farming families.
Finally, to all the aggrieved Nissan Leaf owners out there - sorry if I upset you. I now realise you love your Leaf like a first born, but in my opinion, they are a crap ute.