First time EV Buyer’s Guide (2022)
No sugar-coating or defensiveness, but honest guidance based on the data + years of EV ownership in NZ.
✨ This is a living document and is frequently updated.
The top questions you need to answer before buying an EV.
How much do you drive?
Estimate your travel distance.
- What is your daily schedule?
School run, errands, shop visits, commute, social. Try and get a baseline average of distance travelled. People who have consistent daily commutes are great candidates for EV ownership.
- A realistic number of road trips per year?
Those who make frequent long trips have spent the big $$$ on higher-range EVs. If long trips are a rarity – could there be an alternative (borrow, hire a combustion vehicle, or look at PHEV)?
Where will you charge?
Do you have access to a garage or driveway where you can use a standard plug (or install faster equipment)?
If you have no off-street parking, it gets much trickier as ownership will depend on how you can access public chargers. There isn’t much NZ research on this (watch this space).
Is this your only household car?
Many first-time EV owners buy the vehicle as their second ‘suburban-only’ car.
They still have a combustion car in the household for longer trips, giving more options for the EV purchase.
BEV or PHEV?
Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are fully electric, while plugin hybrids (PHEVs) have a small chargeable battery alongside a combustion engine.
A PHEV may be the better option for those with a frequent mix of long and short trips.
New or Used?
Given the price of new EVs, used is the only option for many. Buying used is a greener choice (given that most EV emissions arise from production).
When buying used, battery condition is FAR MORE IMPORTANT than the odometer.
Buying an EV sounds tricky. Is it that complicated? 🤔
EV ownership changes the way you think about driving.
I’m more intentional about how and where I’m driving, in a way I never was with my petrol car. Given the high price point of an EV (it’s not like buying a $5,000 Honda Fit), it’s worth putting the time in to choose carefully.
What is the cheapest electric car in New Zealand?
New: The MG ZS EV at $49,990 ($41,365 after rebate). See a rundown of the 10 cheapest EVs here.
Used: Early model Nissan Leaf or BMW i3 ($10k +).
Why are EVs so expensive?
Batteries are expensive to produce and demand is outstripping supply.
For years it was believed that only price parity with similar combustion cars would allow consumers to adopt electrics.
However, it’s not always easy to draw a direct comparison between an EV and a combustion car. Newer models are unique cars from the ground up.
What is the rebate, and how does it work?
If you buy a new full EV for under $80,000, you can apply for an $8,625 rebate. For a used import, the rebate is $3,450.
If approved, the cash will be deposited into your bank account.
It’s exclusively for NZ-new or used imports (if someone has already owned the vehicle in NZ, you cannot get a rebate).
Will my battery die or blow up?
Your EV battery won’t die like some cellphone batteries, and the chances of fire are very low.
Is this true?
While both EV and phone batteries are Lithium-ion technology, EV batteries have vastly more sophisticated management systems. They are designed to last far longer but, unfortunately, lose energy density over time.
Australian research has shown an EV battery has a 0.0012% chance of catching fire, compared to a 0.1% chance of a conventional petrol/diesel car catching fire.
What do I need to know about battery size?
The amount of electricity the battery can deliver is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh).
|Nissan Leaf (2014)||24 kWh|
|Hyundai Kona||64 kWh|
|Jaguar I-Pace||90 kWh|
A bigger battery does not always mean a more extended range. The vehicle weight, design, and motor also have an impact.
Example: The Kona has a smaller battery than the I-Pace, but a longer range (because it is lighter and has a less powerful motor).
Are EVs heavier than other vehicles?
Because batteries are HEAVY, the car bodywork is often stronger and heavier to support them. This offers more protection in a crash but means more power is required to move the vehicle.
Do batteries have warranties?
In new vehicles only (if buying a late model second-hand, check the warranty is transferred to you).
What sort of things does a warranty cover?
The battery is the most important and expensive part of the vehicle. Most manufacturers have a seven or 8-year warranty (or 160,000 km).
If the battery degrades to under 70% of its original capacity, it must be replaced.
In reality, this rarely happens (ref: research at recurrent).
How do I charge an EV at home?
All EVs have an inbuilt charger that receives AC (alternating current) electricity from our household plugs.
You need a special cable to do this, which your dealer or car’s previous owner should have given to you.
Just how slow is it? 🐌
From a standard 3-pin plug, about 1.7 kWh of electricity goes into the battery each hour (about 8-12 km of range).
It doesn’t sound like much, but for most drivers, a nightly charge is enough to cover their daily travel.
Some owners find the charging speed too slow and pay for extra equipment to be installed to allow for faster charging.
How do I charge an EV when I’m out?
There’s a wide variety of different chargers and companies, so it isn’t very clear. Most public chargers provide direct current electricity to the battery and are far faster than any home charger. They typically cost per kWh and per minute.
There are some public chargers that are “in-between” your home plug and a DC fast charger (sometimes free to charge). Research is required!
How do I prevent my battery from degrading?
For maximum battery life:
- Keep it charged between 20% and 80%.
- If you’re going away, leave your battery charged to 50-70%. (preferably plugged in).
- Keep your car in the shade.
Is this really necessary?
Newer battery chemistries (such as LFP batteries) don’t need as much care. Heat is the enemy of the lithium-ion battery, but they have amazing management systems to help keep them cool.
Very high or very low states of charge mean that all the lithium ions are in one place – making the battery less ‘balanced’. It still performs fine but will degrade quicker.
How accurate are the listed range amounts for each vehicle?
They’re not accurate at all.
Range is never a fixed number. It varies based on many factors, but the industry needed a standard. In NZ we use the WLTP standard (explain WLTP), which helps compare EVs with each other.
Is the dashboard range accurate?
An EV will factor in your recent driving habits, speed, hills, and temperature to try and predict range. It’s not perfect, but a reasonable estimate.
Range anxiety? 😰
My first open road trip in my Leaf was my first experience of genuine range anxiety. It was a mostly uphill open road trip out of town. I watched the dashboard range plummet, and I feared I would run out of power on my return.
On the return, I watched the dashboard range actually go up, and I was mostly cruising downhill. The combination of regenerated power and the re-calculated dashboard range meant I got home okay!
What causes the range to go down quickly?
Forget everything you know about your petrol car. The following factors demand more power from the battery:
- Open road driving (100 km/h)
- Low temperatures
- You’ve got a heavy foot
- Pumping the heater or the aircon
What leads to the best range?
- Driving downhill
- Driving on the flat
- All urban and city driving
- Temperature between 18-29°
- Driving more economically
- No heater or aircon
Now you can see why range is tricky.
EVs excel in a suburban or city setting. All the stopping leads to increased regeneration (and consequently less brake wear). EVs are more efficient at lower speeds.
How much will my power bill increase?
Your power bill will increase by a small to moderate amount, and your fuel bill will decrease significantly.
Rule of thumb:
- You get 5-7 km of EV range per kWh of electricity.
- If you drive about 50 km/day, that’s 7-10 kWh per day.
- If you pay 25 cents / kWh then that’s $1.75 to $2.50 / day ($50-75 per month).
- However, there are lots of options with power companies (free hours and night rates), so it could be much lower.
70 km a day for under $1 😎
I’m a bit obsessive about getting the best power price.
At the moment, the best for me is Electric Kiwi. I use the Movemaster plan with half-price night rates (for me, that’s 0.15 / kWh 11 pm – 7 am). I use the free hour of power set to 10 pm. The car starts charging at 10 pm. So for about 10 kWh, it costs just under $1. Nice.
I did look closely at Octopus Energy, but the lack of a free hour meant EK was best.
If you join up with Electric Kiwi thru this link, we both get a $50 credit.
What maintenance is required?
An EV has significantly fewer moving parts than combustion vehicles, so less wear, tear, and heat.
- Tyre replacement – EVs are heavier, meaning tyres can wear out faster. Replacement and rotation are required.
- Wiper blades (change as needed).
- Brakes and brake fluid (as needed) – EVs have less brake pad wear – due to less break use from the battery regen feature.
- 12-volt battery (replace as needed) – EVs have a 12-volt battery that runs the accessories when the car is powered off.
- Cabin air filters – Small filters keep the car interior odour-free and clean.
That’s about it: no spark plugs, engine oil, or filters.
Do EVs need special tyres?
However, due to the quietness of the cabin, you may want to have tyres that are not noisy. Also, tyres with low rolling resistance may help a little with range.
Bridgestone Ecopia, Michelin Energy Saver, and Michelin e-primacy are common choices among EV owners.
Maintenance after 40,000 km 🔧
I bought my Nissan Leaf at 54,000 km, now over 90,000 km. I have now replaced all four tyres (for the last two, I spent a premium on getting Bridgestone Ecopia tyres).
The first repair issue just came up – a worn-out ball joint.
I was naive in thinking that nothing would go wrong. But I am pleasantly surprised that the brake pads are still just fine.
Do I need special insurance?
Insurance prices are the same as a combustion vehicle (priced around the car’s value).
Do I need to pay Road User Charges (RUC)?
EVs are exempted from RUC until 31 March 2024.
As most road users pay levies when they buy fuel, clearly EV ownership avoids this. In 2022 RUC was $76 per 1000 km of travel – expect this to apply to EVs at some point.
Is an EV better for the environment?
EVs produce less air and noise pollution and (lifetime) carbon emissions than combustion vehicles.
However, they are not the perfect answer to all environmental issues, and they are not carbon neutral and rely on critical mineral mining.
Insistence of perfection can be the enemy of good.
Reducing transport emissions requires the adoption of hybrids, plugin hybrids, battery electric vehicles, e-bikes, scooters, sustainable public transport, and going car-less.
The production of very large consumer EVs is a green-washing oxymoron – shifting all the CO2 emissions up front, and requiring excessive electricity during their lifetime. If we want to “go green”, going car-less is the best option, followed by driving a small EV.
EVs still emit particulate matter from tyre and brake wear. The larger the EV, the more emissions.
I thought NZ was clean? Do people really die from air pollution?
The most recent research shows that over 2,000 people die prematurely each year as a result of transport emissions (nitrogen dioxide and exhaust particulate).
Is an EV carbon neutral?
Carbon emissions arise from battery (and vehicle) production and the grid generation mix that supplies the electricity.
What about the coal we burn?
Numerous studies show that (over their lifetime) EVs have lower carbon emissions than their combustion counterparts. The size of the reduction is dependent on the electricity generation mix, and NZ sits at around 80-85% renewables making it a good candidate for electrification.
EVs are not the silver bullet but play a role in decarbonising transport.
Some brands (such as Polestar) are determined to make their vehicles carbon-neutral.
Can NZ’s electricity grid support EV adoption?
The grid has suffered from underinvestment and shows a lack of resiliency.
Widespread adoption of EVs will increase demand on the grid*. The Climate Change Commission anticipates an increase of 53% (from 39,700 GWh to 60,600 GWh) by 2050.
However, there is flexibility around EV charging that helps manage that demand.
Smart charging solutions must be implemented. Unfortunately, the complex legislation governing the electricity industry hampers efforts to ‘smarten’ the grid.
Practices like charging at low demand times (night), using home solar generation, and adopting V2G (vehicle to grid) technologies can ease grid load.
*EVs are visible but are not the only potential high-user of power. The building of data centres in NZ (Amazon, Microsoft) will significantly increase power demand. Forecasts claim an increase of 81 megawatts (in 2021) to 303 MW in 2030. In London, the demands of data centres have put the grid under strain.
That’s the equivalent of 606,000 EVs adding ~70 km of range to their vehicle every day.
The issue is if ALL those EVs charge at the same time – this is where smart charging comes in.
Surely it’s better for electricity to go on decarbonising our transport sector, than global corporations mining for bitcoin?
- NZ power generation quarterly (MBIE).
- Knobloch, F., Hanssen, S. V., Lam, A., Pollitt, H., Salas, P., Chewpreecha, U., … & Mercure, J. F. (2020). Net emission reductions from electric cars and heat pumps in 59 world regions over time. Nature Sustainability, 3(6), 437-447.
- NZ Life Cycle Assessment of EVs
- Ivanova, D., Barrett, J., Wiedenhofer, D., Macura, B., Callaghan, M., & Creutzig, F. (2020). Quantifying the potential for climate change mitigation of consumption options. Environmental Research Letters, 15(9), 093001.
- Kucukvar, M., Onat, N. C., Kutty, A. A., Abdella, G. M., Bulak, M. E., Ansari, F., & Kumbaroglu, G. (2022). Environmental efficiency of electric vehicles in Europe under various electricity production mix scenarios. Journal of Cleaner Production, 335, 130291.
- Road User Charges in NZ.
- Woo, S. H., Jang, H., Lee, S. B., & Lee, S. (2022). Comparison of total PM emissions emitted from electric and internal combustion engine vehicles: An experimental analysis. Science of The Total Environment, 156961.
James has been tracking the NZ EV transition since 2016.