Mon. May 23rd, 2022

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Editorial: Cars, feebates and climate change

3 min read

EDITORIAL

Human behaviour being what it is, it’s likely many people will work around the upcoming vehicle “feebate” rules.

Motorists who buy new cars from July 1 can get rebates of nearly $8700 for a new electric or plug-in hybrid car, and about $3500 for used cars. The incentives would be paid for by fees based on emissions levels applied from next January to new petrol or diesel cars of up to $5875, and up to $2875 for imported used cars.

Of course, the scheme is meant to increase the proportion of EVs and hybrids in New Zealand’s car fleet, to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That’s a necessary goal, but it will take years to achieve. It is more likely to form just one cohort of the forces deployed against global warming.

Most likely, people considering replacing their petrol vehicles in the near future will bring that forward to avoid the fees. New and used fuel-burning cars, vans and utes will be snapped up. That will be especially the case for farmers and tradies who need vehicles with the power to carry large loads. The top two imports are the Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux utes.

Some people with reasonably late model, still reliable petrol vehicles will just hold on to them for quite a bit longer.

Some will want to do their bit to reduce their contribution to emissions and will take early advantage of the planned incentives. Rebates might be enough to make EVs affordable for some but increased demand could also drive up prices.

Many people will be conservative about when they go electric. No one wants to risk vehicle trouble on a long trip.

They will wait: until EVs dominate the market; until there are wide options; until battery technology improves; until prices come down, and until charging stations are everywhere.

The process of pushing EVs to people around the world will be driven by government and business decisions made overseas.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she hoped EV or hybrid utility vehicles would be available within two years. “In the meantime, none of this applies to existing vehicles in country, those in the second-hand market, those already here. It’s only for new, and new imports. So there are options to avoid the fees regime.”

The Government’s feebate measures have a strong element of trying to prod people to adjust their thinking in preparation for what’s coming – which is no easy task. With every new technological advance becoming everyday life, it takes time for the majority to adopt it.

The adjustment of mindsets over climate and transport needs to be wide in scope – from people choosing to walk short distances to shops to biking kids to nearby schools rather than hopping in the car.

The actual number of cars on the roads needs to gradually come down.Greater use of rail transport is required. KiwiRail says each tonne of freight shifted by trains has 70 per cent fewer carbon emissions than loads carried on the road.

Much wider acceptance of remote working and use of electric-powered public transport would reduce car trips. Downtowns could develop more mixed uses rather than being pied pipers for commuting office workers.

While it’s an important pathway, relying too much on a strategy of vehicle electrification to achieve emissions targets is risky. There are also a lot of natural solutions that can be deployed.

While we wait for EV use to become widespread, the driving conditions don’t match the speed at which action is needed to tackle global warming.

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