Why you should drive electric

We check on our shift from petrol to electric vehicles. Here’s why the case for driving electric has become more compelling.

charging an electric vehicle

You probably aren’t driving an electric car yet, just one in every 1700 cars on our roads is electric. But you may have noticed their quiet presence in our cities is growing. Since our first report on electric cars last year, the case for driving electric has become more compelling.

In May last year, the government unveiled its ambitious target of “doubling EVs (electric vehicles) each year to 2021”. At the start of 2016 there were 976 registered in New Zealand. By the end of the year, this had more than doubled to 2130.

While we’ve cruised past the first hurdle, the challenge ahead ramps up considerably. By 2021, about 10% of all light vehicle registrations that year need to be EVs. To reach an EV future, consumers like you and me will have to buy in.

Reducing prices

2016 saw EV registrations shift from new PHEVs (plug-in hybrids) to used BEVs (battery-electrics). That was fuelled by consumers buying used Nissan Leafs — almost 1000 of them are now cruising silently on our roads. Most are used Japanese imports.

First-generation Nissan Leafs now dip below $15,000.

The market for used BEVs is booming. The selection of used EVs (mostly imported) is growing, and prices are coming down. Six months ago, it was difficult finding a used Nissan Leaf for much less than $20,000. But as demand has increased, more are imported and prices have dropped. The result is first-generation models now dip below $15,000.

Rising demand has seen more EV-specialist dealers pop up. Dealers, such as EV Central in Taupo and Volt Vehicles in Auckland, are now importing near-new EVs from the UK and Japan. More stores means more choice, as these dealers are bringing in models not “officially” available here, such as the Kia Soul, Mercedes-Benz B-Class and Renault Zoe.

However, downsides of buying a model not officially available in New Zealand is finding spare parts and a garage to service it. Before you buy, ask the importer or dealer about your local servicing options and parts availability.

You also need to check the car’s charging socket. There are several standards for slow- and fast-charging. A good dealer will supply charging leads suitable for use here, but it is essential they are electrically certified and safe to use, as charging an EV puts a heavy load on charging equipment.

Trickle-down effect

Government policy is geared at fleet adoption of EVs — incentives make bulk-purchase by businesses and government departments more attractive. The idea is this will encourage more New Zealand-new EVs, which then trickles down to consumers on the used market in a few years. As most of us buy our cars pre-loved, the idea makes sense.

However, this will only work if businesses adopt EVs sooner rather than later. Is that happening? Not yet. A big barrier is the limited availability of new electric cars. It’s tough getting a trickle-down effect into the used market if the new-vehicle well is dry.

Currently, the BMW i3 is the only new BEV available here. The VW eGolf and Renault Zoe, which were due late last year, are still to materialise. Hyundai NZ has announced the Ioniq, already available in other countries, will be available here as a BEV. We think the Ioniq has the potential to make some major changes in our market.

Better range

The biggest barrier to consumer adoption of BEVs is their limited range. We are used to driving for hundreds of kilometres on a tank of fuel. The fear of running out of juice is a real problem for potential EV owners. Fortunately, we are seeing some developments there.

The stock answer for EV “range anxiety” is it’s much less of a problem than you think. When we trialled a Leaf, we made six meetings all over Auckland and never got close to draining the battery. That was in a car with a range of just 135km.

The latest BEVs can travel even further between charges. While battery technology is improving, immediate gains come from simply using bigger batteries.

  • The first-generation Leaf with a 24kWh battery could cover 117km, which improved to 135km in the second-generation model. The latest Leaf with a bigger 30kWh battery can manage 172km.
  • The BMW i3, with a 33kWh battery, covers 182km.
  • The Hyundai Ioniq has a 28kWh battery good for 218km (Hyundai says the 2018 car will have a range of 320km).
  • The latest Renault Zoe is available in Europe with a 41kWh battery Renault says covers 298km.

Those are all real-world distances, rather than exaggerated best-case claims. The latest BEVs will get you from Central Auckland to Hamilton, while the Renault Zoe will get you home again on a single charge. It adds up to a lot of daily driving before range anxiety takes hold. An each-way commute of an hour is easily manageable.

We’ve not even mentioned Tesla, which announced a New Zealand store and service centre opening in Auckland this year.

  • A base-level Model S will manage 333km on its 60kWh battery. You’ll pay at least $117,000 for that performance though.
  • More in reach is the much-vaunted Model 3. Tesla promises 346km for a starting price of US$35,000 when it arrives next year.

That sort of range means BEVs are moving into the territory of longer journeys. Once range gets over 300km, pure electric travel between Auckland and Taupo; Wellington and Napier; Queenstown and Dunedin; or Christchurch and the West Coast becomes feasible.

“The next car I buy will be electric”

That’s how I started my previous EV article. The developments in just the past six months have me believing it even more. We’re a one-car family, but I could almost justify adding a used Nissan Leaf just from cost-savings I’d make by not using my petrol-powered car for short journeys.

But I’m going to wait. Once BEV range gets above 300km, and more practical models that can swallow a family for a weekend away become available for a reasonable price, I’ll be able to replace my one car with a pure electric model. I reckon that’s a couple of years away yet.

Turning over a new Leaf

Buying a used Nissan Leaf as a second car, especially if you commute by car most days, is like replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs: the sooner you do it, the sooner you’ll start saving on ongoing costs.

Compared with a petrol-engine car, a Leaf would save you $2000 each year on fuel and servicing costs. That’s assuming:

  • a small petrol-engine car returning 8L/100km
  • petrol costing $2 per litre
  • night-rate electricity at 17¢/kW, and
  • 14,000km annual travel — a distance equivalent of a 50km daily round trip commute and a modest amount of other local travel.

At the time of writing, Trade Me has 16 Leafs listed for less than $14,000. Over three years, those running cost savings mean the Leaf is equivalent to buying an $8000 petrol-engine car.

That would get you a 12-year-old Toyota Corolla with the odometer approaching 100,000km. The elderly Corolla is more likely to need repair or costly servicing. It would also pump out pollution every time you turned the ignition key.

Ioniq-ally charged

The Hyundai Ioniq is an important car for BEVs in New Zealand — it has the potential to move them more into the mainstream:

  • Unless the Renault Zoe or VW eGolf finally wash up on our shores, it’ll be the first New Zealand-new BEV released since BMW launched the i3 in 2015.
  • It’s a family-sized five-seat hatchback. While smaller cars like the i3, Leaf and Zoe are great urban runabouts, the Ioniq has just enough extra space to make it more practical for families.
  • It’ll travel 200km on a single charge. That’s not weekend road-trip range, but it makes it more versatile for longer trips and removes range anxiety for the vast majority of drivers.
  • It looks like other cars. While quirky aesthetics appeal to those who want to scream “LOOK AT MY EV!”, most of us want an inoffensive car that’s easy on the eye and doesn’t attract too much attention.
  • A new one costs $60,000. While not cheap — a similarly sized and specced petrol-engined Hyundai Elantra costs just $36,000 — it’s a step below the only other BEV available new (the BMW i3 costs $74,300).
  • It’s designed as an electric car and won’t be available as a petrol- or diesel-only version. This means Hyundai is committing to an electric future.

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Want to know more about the electric vehicle revolution? Check out our trials of different electric vehicles and keep up with what’s happening in the market.

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Andrew & Brenda
15 Feb 2021
EVs are only a fill in until hydrogen

4 years ago i walked in to a Toyota dealership in San Francisco and there lined up in the available range of cars was a hydrogen fuelled Camry sized car. So we need infrastructure for hydrogen powered cars. Surely we are going to need more electric generation for a large fleet of electric vehicles ,so whats the difference. What about the grid upgrades when motels and hotels have many guests rolling in all wanting to charge up for tomorrow’s journey? Will they want to queue up for one or two charging points.

David G.
10 Sep 2019
Whole of vehicle life environmental impact?

In a recent Herald Car supplement that focussed on EVs - the final - very compact - paragraph stated that for a VW Golf: "The whole-of-life environmental impact of a e-Golf has just now equalled the same as for a diesel Golf" ... that's what I recall - and am somewhat confused about ...?

David C.
28 Oct 2018
Some long-term policy direction would be nice.

While the government wants to double the number of EVs on the road every year, some hints as to where they plan to go with policy would be useful as it profoundly affects consumer choices - buying a vehicle is a big deal and they last a lot longer than the electoral cycle.

As examples -

Is there a plan to introduce carbon charging for vehicles? Is it going to be based on real distances driven and actual carbon emitted - like RUCs for carbon? That would be a more grown-up and equitable way of doing it than flat taxes, and would encourage the ownership of more efficient vehicles across the board.

Is there going to be any incentive to move to more rational vehicles? For example a light and efficient hatchback as opposed to a huge SUV as a daily driver - although carbon charging would essentially do that.

Do they plan on offering incentives to get people to trade in older, more polluting vehicles for EVs, the way they do in many other countries? I want to replace an ageing Diesel van with something else practical, but I'd feel pretty put out if I bought (say) an Outlander PHEV to have a high-emitting-vehicle trade-in incentive introduced a year or so down the road.

Low income jobs tend to have odd and fragmented hours that require personal transport. Is there going to be any support for low-income people, who typically own older, higher emitting vehicles, to change?

How is the development of the EV fleet going to link to other parts of policy - like public transport development, battery recycling facilities, city congestion charging and all the rest?

Jason H.
01 Apr 2018
Ev service costs should include battery!!

Come on consumer,a 100,000 km toyota MAY cost a lot in repairs ( having owned a few 400,000 km toyota cars i would say unlikely) But Nissan Leaf 30Kwh batteries are failing at twice the predicted rate and although no replacement cost is available the smaller 24kwh battery is $9000 so surely you need to factor in $10,000 every 5 years or so for battery replacement? This would I suspect offset the fuel savings rather a lot.

Zephyr B.
19 Mar 2017
No (fringe) benefits in EVs

Simon Bridges talks a good game about wanting to increase the numbers of EVs in NZ but the governments lack of actual incentives shows it to be all hot air. Double Cab Utes are the most popular vehicle in NZ. They are classified as work related vehicles and business users get FBT breaks. That's makes a ute a few grand a year cheaper than any other vehicle per year. It's not just tradies buying utes. Given EVs are significantly more expensive than a petrol vehicle and FBT is calculated on the cost of the vehicle the saving made on fuel is wiped out by the tax. There is no way a fleet manger can make a business case for buying a EV like a Leaf vs something like a Mazda 2. Unless the company uses as a marketing tool and the extra expense is classified as market positioning for green credentials. Simon Bridges should stop making promises he can't deliver about EVs using bus lanes and just get on and provide a decent incentive for businesses to buy electric. Once that is done we'd have a nice (ex-lease) fleet of EV's within three years. And five years after that there will be a excellent secondary market of ex vehicle batteries available for storing solar power in houses.

David S.
17 Mar 2017
Hybrids for now

Until technology improves the range and a good network of recharging points is established, hybrids are a reasonable compromise.

Jonathan W.
11 Mar 2017
How do you charge overnight if you don't have off street parking?

What do you do if you have only street parking, and in my case, it's not even on the same side of the street, plus no neighbours on the that side that I could do a deal with either.
Any ideas?
Are city councils considering areas where we can plugin in suburbs overnight?
Will wayward youth wander along and unplug them overnight, just for a laugh? ;-)
Maybe too many questions in one post, but they are all connected for those of us without off street parking.
Maybe we need to convince our bosses to install chargers at work carparks...

Roger & Jodie W.
06 Mar 2017
Now the REAL question is..

When can I buy a BEV people mover in NZ?
or even a PHEV?

Paul S.
08 Mar 2017
re: Now the REAL question is...

and it's a good one! The simple answer is...
not yet. But, Nissan and Renault both make small BEV vans that could so easily be people movers.

As range of current BEVs has only just got up to 200 real kms, the focus has been on smaller cars suited to city driving and commuting. That's partly to keep the weight down, as a heavy loaded-up people-mover would see much less range from a charge. It's also partly because, up to now, EVs have been for 'early-adopters' and designed as quirky little cars.

But, as fast charging networks expand, battery tech improves, and EVs become more mainstream, there will be bigger, more versatile cars and trucks available. The Outlander PHEV is a start (though range is limited to 40km battery-only and to fit the batteries it only comes as a 5-seater). The Hyundai Ioniq is a step forward as a normal-looking five-seat hatch big enough for a small family. I hear Ford US have a BEV pick-up in the works. That'd be a game changer if it proves to be real.

Paul Smith
Consumer NZ Staff

John H.
04 Mar 2017
Charge time

Its not so much range anxiety as charge time. 5 or 10 minutes to refuel with petrol. Hours with electric

Mark H.
05 Mar 2017
Charge time only matters if you run out of range

Hours to charge isn't a problem if you have enough range and can plug in overnight. I wish I could afford the top of the line Tesla S with 600km range and 30 minute charge at one of their Supercharger stations (currently planned for Hamilton, Turangi, Sanson and Auckland with more sites to be announced).

I see electric as a great option for a commuter car that goes to work and back everyday and can charge each night during off-peak hours.

Roger & Jodie W.
06 Mar 2017
The charge time depends on

Single or Three phase power supply.
So you can get one installed at home.
But it changes your electric billing, etc too.

Paul S.
08 Mar 2017
re: Charge time

Hi John,

Sure - charging on a normal power outlet takes many hours, but the idea there is that an overnight charge gives 120-200+ kilometres for the day. That can be extended by topping up while at work, for example.

But you are right - on longer trips it takes 5-10 minutes to fill up with petrol, and that gives you 500km or so of range. In a BEV (Telsa excepted) you'd need to recharge every 200km at the most. But using one of the DC fast chargers, that 'fill-up' will take more like 30 minutes, not hours. The fast-charging network is expanding, many installed by charge.net but others available from power companies and councils. While a drive the length of the country may be a stretch, a 350-400km drive with just one 30 minute break is realistic. Check out plugshare.com to see a map of charging points. The downside is that a recharge at one of the charge.net points will cost about the same per km as filling with petrol, though some others are free (at least for now).

Paul Smith
Consumer NZ staff

Megan & Curtis
04 Mar 2017
Battery anxiety

I don't so much have range anxiety, so much as battery anxiety. You know how your cell phone battery lasts a shorter and shorter time as the months roll on? After a couple of years you're on e-bay buying a replacement battery.

So - my questions to Consumer are what is the battery life span for these cars? How much do they degrade over time? What is the cost of replacing the battery (it's not like you can go on ebay!)?

Dean C.
04 Mar 2017
Battery reliability and our experience

I haven't confirmed yet that it applies to used imports but certainly for new LEAF's, Nissan have a battery warranty that it won't deteriorate by more than 80% (from memory) within 8 years or 160 000km which I think is fairly generous. I read an article from about a year ago and there had been 35 000 LEAF's sold in the UK since 2011 and only 3 had had batteries replaced. In New Zealand we have a good climate for battery health (the earlier batteries deteriorated in hot climates).

Remember also that there is minimal other maintenance. By that mileage, a petrol car will have needed countless oil/spark plug/filter changes and maybe a gearbox overhaul or valve grind etc.

We've just bought a 3 year old Generation 2 24 kWh LEAF ex Japan and love it. We did 165km on the first full charge but 145 - 150km is probably more normal for mixed driving (open road/heavy traffic etc). There are public chargers going in all over the place now. 20 mins for an 80% charge in the LEAF ($10). Some are free.

Paul S.
08 Mar 2017
re: Battery Anxiety

Dean has answered with everything I'd say. But I'd add that we are a bit behind the US and Europe with EVs and we rely on imports rather than NZ-new cars. So battery warranty overseas is a very good guide to life, but we don't have so much support for accessing replacement batteries or being able to recondition them. But it'll come, as more EVs hit our roads.

I think our next article about EVs will focus on batteries and charging.

Paul Smith
Consumer NZ staff

David M.
12 Mar 2017
Very good question

My understanding is that heat is the main killer of Lithium batteries. My phone probably gets hottest when it's charging. I would think fast car chargers would also heat up car batteries significantly (and therefore shorten lifespan) unless they have active battery cooling. I know Tesla has good battery cooling but do the other manufacturers have this also? And our climate won't help when it comes to reducing charging temperatures unless the charging station is up one of the mountains in the middle of winter. :)