EV Uptake: Actual vs Target

The transition to electric vehicles is neither straightforward nor rapid.

Factors such as supply constraints, huge demand for metals, and rising inflation make it unlikely we’ll see a “tipping point”.

NZ’s adoption of EVs has been unpredictable and slower than anticipated. However, the introduction of the clean car scheme in 2021 definitely changed the market.

NZ EVs on the Technology Adoption Life Cycle

The technology adoption life cycle is a theory that predicts the uptake of new technology. Based on ideas about the diffusion of innovation, this can be plotted on a graph.

The transition from early adopters to the early majority is significant enough to be called ‘crossing the chasm‘. Some technologies fail to make this transition.

  • EV is anything with a plug (battery EV + Plugin Hybrid EV).
  • Based on all light vehicles (passenger cars and commercial vehicles under 3,500 kg).
  • EV percentage is an average of the last three months’ registrations of new and used import vehicles (using data from Waka Kotahi).

The average is to even out the big variations (based on supply). For example, Tesla appears to cram in all their registrations by the end of each quarter.

Failed Goal: 64,000 EVs by 2021 👎🏽

The first major target for EV uptake was set by the National government in May 2016. A number of initiatives were undertaken with the intent to have 64,000 EVs on the road by the end of 2021.

In reality, just over 36,000 EVs were on the road.

Despite the plan to address Fringe Benefit Tax rules, no changes were made – missing out on early EV uptake by corporate fleets. However, NZ passed the 64k mark in December 2022 – in part due to the Clean Car Discount implemented (ironically) by the Labour government.

As of the end of 2022, the scheme had paid out $203.3m and received over $105.1m in fees (NZ Herald)

How do EVs feature in the climate commission targets?

As part of New Zealand’s goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 – transport plays a major role.

According to the Clean Car scheme, 50% of monthly registrations need to be EVs* by 2030. This is an ambitious target.

EECA recommendations
50% of light vehicle imports will be electric by 2027, with 40% of the fleet electric by 2035 (ref)

It’s worth considering that Germany went from a 3.7% plugin share of registrations (October 2019) to 34.4% (October 2021) src. Could NZ look the same in two years’ time?

Seems unlikely due to the high level of second-hand imports (compared to Europe’s prevalence of purchasing new).

NZ’s primary source of used imports is Japan – however Japan has a poor showing in the EV department (just 1% of sales in 2020).

2022 Emissions Reduction Plan

The Emissions Reduction Plan (released May 2022), targets “30 percent of the light vehicle fleet to be zero-emissions by 2035“.

This is the most ludicrous (or ambitious) target so far.

Zero emission is either a Battery EV or a Fuel Cell. At the date of the announcement, just 0.73% of the light fleet was zero emissions.

It doesn’t take much to figure out that truly exponential growth is needed.

If somehow the fleet was the same size (> 4.4 m), then about 1.3 m of those vehicles would need to be zero emission. So… add 1.3 million EVs, and dump 1.3 m ICE vehicles… in just 13 years.

By James Foster

James has been tracking the NZ EV transition since 2016.

Updated as at December 31, 2022