Clean Car "feebate" explained

We explain what the Clean Car policies are and how they might affect you.

Clean green car

We are one of just two OECD countries that don’t regulate the amount of pollution cars pump out. We’re in fine company, the other is our neighbour and great environmental leader – Australia.

Our government recently announced the Clean Car Standard (a vehicle fuel efficiency standard) and Clean Car Discount (a “feebate” scheme) that will reduce emissions from our light vehicle fleet. We’re finally starting down a road that’ll catch us up with the rest of the world and give us a chance to meet our net carbon zero goal in 2050.

We explain what the Clean Car policies are and how they might affect you.

Clean Car Discount

The Clean Car Discount “feebate” will affect anyone buying a new (or newly imported) car. The idea is to encourage car buyers to choose vehicles that are more efficient and less polluting. The scheme rewards those who choose more efficient models by giving them a rebate on the purchase price – this will be funded by fees added to the price of less efficient vehicles.

From 2021, the most efficient vehicles up to three years old will cost $8000 less, while the least efficient will cost $3000 more. Older used imports (sold in New Zealand for the first time) attract a maximum rebate of $2600 or a $1500 fee.

The government estimates that, over the life of the vehicles affected, the Clean Car Discount will save motorists around $627 million in fuel (on average, $5200 over the lifetime of each vehicle) and reduce CO₂ by around 1.6 million tonnes.

Clean Car Standard

The second part of the policy, the Clean Car Standard, should mean more clean vehicle options become available, because it phases in tighter standards for fuel efficiency. Dealers have to stock a range of more efficient cars or pay a penalty.

An emissions standard is long overdue. Vehicles on our roads are considerably dirtier than those in other countries, and the gap is widening.

In the standard, the bar for “clean” is lower for larger cars – so a big SUV won’t be expected to meet the same emissions standard as a small city car. That means there should be cleaner options available for all vehicle types, even if you really need an SUV or ute. However, the policy aims to move people into smaller, more efficient vehicles, so there will be bigger rebates and more options available for smaller cars, and more fees for larger ones.

Efficiency and CO₂

More fuel-efficient cars emit less CO₂ per kilometre.
More fuel-efficient cars emit less CO₂ per kilometre.

You’re likely familiar with litres per 100 kilometres (L/100km). However, a better measure (used in the Clean Car policies) is grams of CO₂ emitted per kilometre (gCO₂/km), which shows both the efficiency and the contribution to climate change. Burning one litre of petrol produces a fixed amount of CO₂ (2.3kg), so more fuel-efficient cars emit less CO₂ per kilometre.

What makes a vehicle “light”?

The “light vehicle fleet” refers to anything weighing 3.5 tonnes or less.
The “light vehicle fleet” refers to anything weighing 3.5 tonnes or less.

In government language, the Clean Car polices apply to the “light vehicle fleet”. That includes any road-going passenger or commercial vehicle weighing less than 3.5 tonnes – cars, vans, SUVs, utes and trucks. When we refer to “cars” or “vehicles” we mean anything that belongs to the “light vehicle fleet”.

Not just electric

Battery electric (BEV) cars will receive the highest rebate because they emit zero CO₂. Plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and mild hybrid vehicles (those that don’t plug in) will also see rebates at the higher end of the scale.

In the future, the bar for break-even emissions will lower, so by 2025 a car will need to emit less than 105 gCO₂/km to attract a rebate...

However, while encouraging the switch to electric power is one reason for the policy, its intention is to improve the overall efficiency of the vehicle fleet, regardless of fuel. That means relatively efficient petrol (or diesel) cars will also get a rebate. “Break-even” emissions (which see neither a rebate nor a fee) of 150-180 gCO₂/km are proposed for 2021, meaning some petrol and diesel models of the Toyota Corolla, Mazda CX-3, Nissan X-Trial and Suzuki Swift (for example) will cost less. For reference, our current fleet averages about 180 gCO₂/km.

In the future, the bar for break-even emissions will lower, so by 2025 a car will need to emit less than 105 gCO₂/km to attract a rebate, while anything coughing out more than 140 gCO₂/km will be penalised with a fee. The phased introduction of the feebate allows dealers to transition to importing more efficient petrol and diesel options, and reflects expectation of more efficient petrol cars, as well as more electric and hybrid cars, becoming available.

It’s about time

The Clean Car Discount and Standard proposed aren’t perfect, and they’re not silver bullets that’ll clean up our roads overnight. But it is a start that’s desperately needed to end decades of apathy and inaction.

The CO₂ our cars emit is a significant contributor to the climate emergency. Transport accounts for a fifth of our domestic emissions and is the fastest growing source by far. Two-thirds of transport emissions come from the cars, SUVs, vans and utes we drive.

That growth is despite newer cars being less polluting than older models – our imports are dominated by older, less efficient vehicles. Since the introduction of a requirement for imported cars to meet the JAP05 emissions standard caused a marked improvement in 2012, emissions have hardly changed. Japan, where most of our used imports come from, averages under 120 gCO₂/km. Even vehicles in the US, the land of big gas-guzzlers, emit less than ours do: under 150 gCO₂/km on average.

Lower emissions also mean less spent on fuel. In 2017 it cost the average Kiwi motorist 65% ($794) more in fuel to drive 11000km than it did the average European motorist – despite the European petrol price being 17% higher than ours.

We need to reach a tipping point for electric vehicles. Switching to an EV charged overnight from renewably-generated electricity reduces your car’s CO₂ emissions to zero. To achieve net carbon zero by 2050, we need most of our cars to be electric. Even the best-case projections for EV uptake don’t achieve that – we need a mechanism to encourage manufacturers to bring more EVs to New Zealand and consumers to buy them.

A clean, green New Zealand?

Vehicle emissions since 2007

Prior to 2012, the average car on our roads was filthy – emitting almost 200 gCO₂/km. By the end of that year they’d improved to about 185 gCO₂/km. About 45% of the light vehicle fleet comprises used imports. From January 2012, Japanese imports had to meet the Japan 05 emissions standard – hence the sudden drop. If that trend had continued, our cars would be emitting less than 140gCO₂/km on average today. Unfortunately, it didn’t – since 2013 we’ve made negligible progress.

From 2013 imported cars got considerably older (the age when they first arrived in New Zealand) year on year. In 2013 the average import was around eight years old, and less than one in ten was over 10 years old. Six years later, the average imported car was almost 11 years old, and over half were 10 years or older. That’s meant that emissions from used imports haven’t reduced.

New cars and used imports

Until 2018, the average used import emitted more CO₂ than in 2013. The declining trend in average emissions since 2017 is due to fewer very high-emission petrol vehicles (>200 gCO₂/km) being imported. Unfortunately, this trend is partially offset by buyers of larger vehicles (SUVs, vans and utes) switching from petrol to diesel vehicles – which have average emissions of almost 210 gCO₂/km, with around two-thirds emitting more than 170 gCO₂/km.

New cars don’t fare much better. While average emissions at the start of 2019 were lower than that of used imports (about 167 gCO₂/km), emissions have fallen by less than 5 gCO₂/km since 2014. That’s despite improvements in car emissions made by manufacturers. Our stagnation is partly due to us choosing larger, less efficient vehicles, and partly because cleaner models available overseas aren’t sold here (because, unlike most other countries, we don’t have any incentives or regulation to encourage or necessitate cleaner cars).

Overseas comparison

Our vehicle emissions were higher than those of other OECD countries back in 2005, and the gap has grown wider since. In 2005, we were at least within touching distance (10 gCO₂/km) of US, Canadian and South Korean emissions. But since then, the gap has more than doubled. If we stay on our current unregulated emissions path, by 2025 our cars will be emitting over 160 gCO₂/km – twice that of EU vehicles.

The difference is partly down to the vehicles our dealers choose to import. Cleaner variants of popular cars are available, just not in New Zealand. A comparison of the lowest-emission variants of the best-selling passenger vehicles available new in New Zealand in 2017 to the best comparable variant sold in the UK showed that, of 17 models from 10 manufacturers, just two of the NZ variants (Suzuki Swift and Mitsubishi Outlander) emitted lower CO₂. Of the other 15, the UK had cleaner versions of the same car on sale. The most extreme case was the Toyota Yaris. Updating the figures to models on sale now, the best New Zealand Yaris emits more than the worst UK version (134 gCO₂/km vs 118 gCO₂/km).

Yaris models listed on Toyota NZ website, 9 August 2019

1.3L petrol, manual gearbox: 134 gCO₂/km
1.5L petrol, automatic gearbox: 147 gCO₂/km

2021 rebate $600-800

Yaris models listed on Toyota UK website, 9 August 2019

1.5L petrol hybrid, automatic gearbox: 84-91 gCO₂/km
1.0L petrol, manual gearbox: 104-107 gCO₂/km
1.5L petrol, automatic gearbox: 112-113 gCO₂/km
1.5L petrol, manual gearbox: 116-118 gCO₂/km

2021 rebate $2800-4800

Data is from the Ministry of Transport's Quarterly Fleet Statistics - April to June 2019 update:

Car shopping with the feebate

Mr X wants a Mazda3 – a small, practical, hatchback. He could buy a new Mazda3 GLX with a 2.0 litre engine (136 gCO₂/km) and get a modest $800 rebate bring its price down to $32000. If Mazda New Zealand sold the UK version of that car, the 2.0L SkyActiv-G emitting 117 gCO₂/km, he would get an extra $2000 rebate.

Mr X is happy to save a few dollars and look at a used car. If he can find an example of that new Mazda3 less than three years old, it’d still attract the same $800 rebate (as the Clean Car Discount scheme considers cars up to three years old to be “new”). If he considers an import, he could buy a five-year-old Axela (the Mazda3 in Japan) 2.0L hybrid. Even with lower rebates available for used-cars, the hybrid’s 74 gCO₂/km means he would save $1700 and pay around $20000 for a sub-60000km example.

The closest all-electric car to the Mazda is the latest 40kWh Nissan Leaf. Buying new is out of reach for him – even with the full $8000 zero-emission rebate he’d be looking at $52000. An imported nearly-new 2018 model would cost about $44000 and would attract the same new-car rebate – closer, but still $4000 more than the new Mazda3. To get close to the used Axela hybrid, he’d need to shop for an older 30kW Leaf – some of which will only attract the “used car” rebate of $6800, as they were first registered in Japan over three years ago.

The closest all-electric car to the Mazda is the latest 40kWh Nissan Leaf.
The closest all-electric car to the Mazda is the latest 40kWh Nissan Leaf

Though the Leaf and Mazda3 are comparable in size, he’d need to accept less practicality in the Leaf for longer trips – an older 30kW example will only cover about 150km between charges, while the newer 40kW model will get 250km or more. However, in return for switching to an EV, he’d save several thousand dollars in running costs every year.

Susie Q needs a medium-sized SUV to suit her active urban lifestyle. She’s set on owning a new car and is rather taken by the latest Toyota RAV4. All-wheel-drive is a priority, which means the 2.5 GXL AWD model fits the bill. Emitting 156 gCO₂/km, she won’t get a rebate on its $41990 price, but at least it won’t attract a fee. However, for $2000 more, she could choose the GXL Hybrid AWD. That model emits just 110 gCO₂/km, meaning its price is discounted by $2800 – making it cheaper than the non-hybrid version. As the hybrid car is more efficient, Susie will also save on fuel costs.

Susie doesn’t have any EV options, unless she compromises and accepts a front-wheel-drive car. Then, the Kia Niro is worth a look. The all-electric version is too expensive for Susie’s pocket, even with the $8000 rebate she’d still need to find $62000 for the smaller-battery version. Even the plug-in hybrid Niro is out of reach – emitting just 29 gCO₂/km, it gets a healthy $6800 new-car rebate, but that still leaves it costing over $49000. However, if Susie does a lot of shorter trips she might recover the cost difference to the mild-hybrid RAV4 in fuel savings over a couple of years – the Niro PHEV will cover 55km on battery power alone.

What Feebate would you get?

Member comments

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Stephen F.
01 Jan 2020
Does it go far enough?

It is a good start.

Now we should reform fuel excise tax....

Why not have a charge for all road vehicles (RUC) based on distance travelled and use this to fund road activity (and to more adequately reflect damage heavy vehicles do to the road).

Eliminate fuel excise tax, but add a carbon tax to all fuels at say 20c/litre. Use this carbon tax to plant trees on marginal farmland as a carbon sink, to partially fund public transport, and environmentally sustainable initiatives.

Barry P.
10 Sep 2019
Slanted Science?

A lot of this article is emotional dribble interspersed with some science and an odd fact.
People exhale so much more CO2 than cars. Have some folk run or walk, a km & measure their CO2 output.
Air In, 14-times the volume of petrol, (15Kg in total) produces 2.3kG CO2.
And for people who don't use a fossil fuel over that same Km?

Road tax, revenue, No one mentions that the current and future expenditure, like super annuitant benefit, will need to come somewhere where existing revenue stream is diminished.

And missing out my 2019 Corolla GX HECV is purposeful?
Don't forget that with ANY vehicle using a traction battery will not be polluting when waiting in traffic jams, slow moving traffic streams, or stationary at lights. Those situations are inherently worse for petrol engines than when moving under power.

Then of course, there is the disposal of expired batteries . . . . {BEP}.

Staff C.
12 Sep 2019
Wonky physics?

Hi Barry,

We fuel ourselves by eating plants that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere (and animals that eat those plants, which is less efficient). So the CO2 we exhale returns to the atmosphere to be absorbed again by new plants, which we then eat. It's the concept of the carbon cycle. The planet is quite comfortable sustaining that.

You could argue that the CO2 emitted from petrol comes from plants too, but the process for those plants to be converted to oil takes millions of years. The Earth can't handle the release of that carbon at the rate we're digging it up and burning it, without adapting. It's not a sustainable cycle, so it causes a change, which is the problem we're facing - a warming environment.

Science, not emotion, says that the process of humans eating and breathing doesn't contribute to this problem, but humans burning fossil fuels does.

There's the localised pollution that comes from a vehicle exhaust to consider too. A petrol engine is a source of pollutant gases and particles that harm those around it. Nothing we expel from our lungs through breathing is damaging to others around us.

After reviewing the data and science, I find it impossible to conclude anything other than an urgent need for this policy (or something like it - as I say, it's not at all perfect, but it's a start - and we desperately need to make a start). The 'odd fact' here is that we've done nothing to control our vehicle emissions to date.

Kind regards,
Consumer NZ

Bob F.
01 Oct 2019
Not slanted science

People breathe out around 1kg CO2 every day. But ALL of this comes from the food we eat, and this ALL comes directly or indirectly from vegetation converting CO2 from the air into carbohydrates. In other words all animals eat vegetation that was CO2 in the air only a few weeks earlier. CO2 from this source is not a problem because it is continuously recycled in the natural cycle.
In contrast motor vehicles emit CO2 that came from oil, a fossil fuel, and that carbon came from CO2 absorbed by plants millions of years ago. Putting all that CO2 back into the atmosphere is the problem.

Hamish W.
05 Sep 2019
So, heavy vehicles (trucks) continue to pollute forever?

Unlike the EU, US and Canada who put rules into effect years ago. US and Canada in 2007... not sure about the EU but I think it was similar.

Staff C.
12 Sep 2019
Re: heavy vehicles

Hi Hamish,

Wouldn't it be grand if we could do something about those too. I guess they've started with light vehicles because it's the bigger source of CO2 - two-thirds of transport emissions. I suspect it's also the easiest place to start and one where the higher vehicle turnover means the policy could make a more immediate impact. Maybe heavy vehicles will be next?

Consumer NZ

Conrad H.
05 Sep 2019
Clean Car Standard

So since when did Russia become a member of the OECD? You shouldn’t believe everything that the Ministry of Transport writes. 😀

Staff C.
06 Sep 2019

That's a very good point Conrad - I missed that one!

So we join one other OECD country (Australia), plus Russia, as having no emissions control. That certainly doesn't make us look any better :-)


Consumer NZ

Kim A.
01 Sep 2019
Resale value

What do you expect to happen to the resale value of these cars now?

Staff C.
12 Sep 2019
Re: resale value

Hi Kim,

I expect there will be a period where resale values adjust to the new rebate or fee structure.

For used cars the feebate will only be a small part of the value, as the maximum feebates are relatively low. For new cars it's more, but still quite small compared to the effect depreciation has on resale value.

For EVs there might be more of an adjustment. But there's so much changing in that space, I think the biggest impact on resale will be availability (likely to remain low for a few years yet), which will keep demand up, and reducing battery prices and improving technology, which'll drive prices of current EVs down.

Basically - I'm not sure!

Consumer NZ staff

Tony N.
31 Aug 2019
Good explanation.

Good explanation. Let's hope the scheme actually comes about.

Roger & Jodie W.
31 Aug 2019
Where can I find a list of BEV

Where I can find/filter by number of seats.

Staff C.
06 Sep 2019
Re: list of BEV

I don't think there are an yBEVs available with my than 5 seats, though some (the BMW i3 for sure) only have 4. I'm not sure where you can filter by number of seats, but places you'll find lists of available BEVs here:

Drive Electric which lists new cars.

EV Talk which has a list of new and used EVs with guide prices.

Electricheaven has a comprehensive guide by Sigurd Magnussen regularly updated with available new and used models.

We don't maintain any of these, so I can't be sure they are totally up to date, or vouch for any of the info they contain. But they are a good start I use myself.


Consumer NZ