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Electric vehicles or ‘EVs’ are growing rapidly in popularity in New Zealand. There’s an increasing number of EVs being sold as the running cost and environmental benefits over petrol or diesel vehicles become known. New Zealand’s infrastructure (like charging stations) is starting to support this trend. So what is an electric vehicle exactly? How does it differ from your current fuel-powered car and is it right for you?

In this Electric Vehicles section, you'll learn things like:

  • How an electric vehicle works.
  • What’s involved in charging an EV.
  • The pros and cons of EV ownership.

Looking ahead to cleaner, greener roads in New Zealand

New Zealand’s electricity is made up of 80% renewable energy sources like wind, dams and geothermal activity. The government is working towards increasing this percentage even more. Part of what makes our country special is its clean, green way of life. Moves to ban single use plastic bags and encourage importation of EVs over petrol vehicles, show just how seriously Kiwis take the environment. Once the cost to purchase comes down, Electric Vehicle ownership will just make sense to many of us in New Zealand.

 

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What is an electric vehicle?

An EV is any automobile that runs off electricity rather than fossil fuels like petrol or diesel. There is a large battery inside the EV which powers everything from moving the car to the stereo. EVs are ‘charged’ by mains or public charging points. There are trucks, SUVs, sedans and sports car style electric vehicles available. The automotive industry is quickly getting electric vehicle models into market with the rapid demand. 

The cost of an electric vehicle is often higher than petrol cars but mass production will see this reduce over time. The savings in fuel can often mean the extra cost of purchase is justified. Electric vehicles are produced by many car manufacturers, but US-based Tesla is perhaps the most well-known pioneering EV brand in the world. New Zealand has Tesla, Nissan, Hyundai and many other makes of electric car for sale.

How does an electric vehicle work?

  • The fully-electric plug in EV works with an electric traction motor, powered by electricity stored inside a large battery. Many mainstream EVs on the market use a lithium ion battery - the same battery type that powers our personal devices. 
  • The electric traction motor powers the vehicle that turns the wheels. A ‘controller’ will help manage the flow of energy to the traction motor to control speed and torque.
  • Many EVs have ‘regenerative’ charging, meaning when you are breaking, the motor gets a small charge. For windy downhill drives this can help save on energy usage.
  • EVs will have thermal systems to keep the components cool. This is very important for safety given the size of the battery and amount of electricity powering the vehicle.
  • An electric vehicle, while an impressive feat of technology, has far less moving parts and no gears as with a petrol vehicle. This can mean less or easier maintenance (although not always), and high ‘torque’ - acceleration very quickly, straight away. 
  • When running, an EV is very quiet and smooth, especially with inner-city driving.
  • Once the battery gets low, an EV is simply charged at home or at a public charging station. 


The Future of Electric Vehicles in New Zealand

The move towards electric vehicles is not just caused by customer demand, but the government’s environmental goals. In 2019, a proposed incentive scheme by the government detailed discounts on imported electric cars, and fees on fuel vehicles with high greenhouse gas emissions. 

Electric vehicles are a good fit for New Zealand, with plenty of city driving, hilly areas, and relatively small travelling distances - even for ‘road trips’, when compared with other countries. As the infrastructure for charging is expanded and the cost on the 2nd hand market becomes more accessible, adoption of EVs by more New Zealanders will follow. We’d expect that over the next few decades, the ability to charge an EV will be more available than petrol. With petrol prices reaching record highs, an EV, which can cost the equivalent of $0.30 litre to charge, is going to be the next new car purchase for many.


Considering the Pros and Cons of Electric Vehicles

The EV comes with advantages and disadvantages vs. traditional combustion engine vehicles. 

Pros

  • Cheaper to run - equivalent of $0.30 a litre.
  • Much nicer to the NZ environment - according to Energywise, EVs emit 60% less emissions than petrol vehicles - including manufacture and shipping the vehicle itself.
  • Quiet - you’ll hear conversations with passengers, music and hazards much easier without a noisy engine in the background.
  • Accelerate quickly - no gears. 
  • Great handling - battery pack centres the vehicle and helps traction.
  • Charge at home, overnight. Avoid the rush of a public petrol station.

Cons

  • Slower to charge than petrol/diesel vehicles. As of 2019, you’re looking at at least 20 minutes (fast) and as high as 12 hours (slow, home overnight) to ‘fill up’.
  • The cost of an electric vehicle is considerably more than an equivalent standard car. Remember, though, the ongoing running cost is much less. We also expect costs to come down as EVs are mass produced by more companies, driving competition. As of 2019, however, a petrol or diesel 2nd hand car is going to be much easier for Kiwis to buy.
  • When the battery wears out, you’ll need to replace it - the cost isn’t cheap currently. Like the cost of the vehicle itself, however, we’d expect these to become cheaper and/or have a longer lifespan as technology matures.
  • A road trip needs a bit more planning with an EV. Make sure you know where the charging stations are, and map out the trip accordingly.


Is an EV Right For Me?

Whether or not an electric vehicle is right for you is entirely dependent on your situation. They are a great choice if you’re looking for cheaper running costs and do your bit to reduce our impact on the environment - but you’ll need to consider if the purchase price is even in your budget. New Zealand’s climate and terrain make EVs a logical choice for many people. 

Buying EV isn’t cheap. We suggest doing your research on the available models to see if there’s an option in your budget.

When looking for an EV, make sure you can answer these questions:

  • What’s my budget - can I afford an EV equivalent of the type of car I want?
  • Is the size big enough to fit my needs - family, dog, equipment like bikes or tools.
  • What’s the maximum range of the vehicle?
  • Based on my vehicle usage, how much would this save me each year after the purchase cost is factored in?
  • What’s the availability of public charging like in my area?
  • Is my house or workplace set up to make home charging easy? What will I need to spend here?
  • What are the safety features of the vehicle?
  • If buying a fleet vehicle, will the EV meet the needs of my business?

While electric vehicles are still well outnumbered by petrol vehicles, this is likely to change.