Buying an Electric Car in New Zealand (2024)

At the end of 2023, there were over 100,000 plug-in cars on New Zealand roads. Of those plug-ins, 73% of them were fully electric.

The EV has moved out of the early adopter phase, and is slowly moving into the early majority. However, there is a lot to learn, and a lot of differences over the traditional combustion car.

Let’s try and address some of the more common questions.

First-time Buyers

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?
    Most EV owners only encounter the public charging network when they are taking a road trip. If you do a lot of road trips, it’s worth getting the maximum-range EV you can afford. The charging network is evolving quickly, but so are the numbers of EVs on the road.

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.

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 (no combustion engine).
  • Plugin hybrids (PHEVs) have a small rechargeable battery alongside a combustion engine.

A PHEV can be a good option if you take a lot of road trips; however, the retail price is not always much cheaper than a BEV.

What about a straight hybrid? Hybrids reduce your petrol costs and emissions. However, their batteries are very small and cannot be charged externally – allowing very few times for purely electric travel.

New or Used?

New EVs have a higher upfront price than their petrol counterparts. However, the total cost of ownership (reduced fuel cost) could make the EV more economical in the long run.

The secondhand market is growing quickly, and prices have come down in 2023.

When buying used, the battery condition is an important factor. This is important for the early Nissan Leaf (2011-2017), but many newer EVs have more robust battery systems, showing very little degradation.

Buying an EV sounds tricky. Is it that complicated? 🤔

EV ownership changes the way you think about driving.

Many owners (but not all) become more intentional about how they drive. There is something about plugging in at home that can make you aware of how much energy you are using.

What is the cheapest electric car in New Zealand?

New: See a rundown of the 10 cheapest EVs here.

Used: See the used EV comparison.

Why are EVs so expensive?

Batteries are expensive to produce.

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 directly compare an EV and a combustion car. Newer models are unique cars from the ground up.

The appearance of Chinese brands (MG, GWM, and BYD) has lowered the entry price point of new EVs.

Battery

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, slowly 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 Kona64 kWh
Jaguar I-Pace90 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?

It depends on which other vehicles. An MG ZS EV is lighter than a Toyota RAV4 GXL AWD (petrol).

However, EVs with larger batteries tend to be heavier than similar-sized combustion vehicles.

Because batteries are heavy, the car bodywork is often stronger and heavier to support them. This offers more protection in a crash but requires more power to move the vehicle.

How long will the battery last?

The EV market is relatively new, but 10-year-old Nissan Leafs have lost about 25-30% of their capacity. Note that the LEAF represents the earliest and most inferior battery technology. The early LEAFs also had relatively small batteries (meaning a higher depth of discharge).

Newer EVs are demonstrating significantly less degradation than the LEAF. Research from recurrent shows that after 150,000 km of travel, Tesla Model 3 long-range EVs have lost less than 10% of range.

Do batteries have warranties?

Yes.

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).

It must be replaced if the battery degrades to under 70% of its original capacity.

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 you.

Just how slow is it? 🐌

From a standard 3-pin plug, up to 2.3 kWh of electricity goes into the battery each hour (about 11-16 km of range).

It doesn’t sound like much, but a nightly charge is enough for most drivers 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.

Calculate charging cost and time of any EV in New Zealand.

When is the best time to charge?

During off-peak times (11 pm to 7 am).

  • It evens out grid demand.
  • It is significantly cheaper (many power providers have half-price nightly rates).
  • You use predominantly renewable generation (most coal-fired generation is during peak times).

The worst time to charge? When you get home from work.

How do I charge an EV when I’m out?

Use PlugShare or A Better Route Planner to find nearby charging stations.

There’s a wide variety of 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 sometimes per minute).

Some public chargers are “in-between” your home plug and a DC fast charger (sometimes free to charge). Forward planning 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.

👉 See the full battery guide.

Is this necessary?

Newer battery chemistries (such as LFP batteries) don’t need as much care. Heat is the enemy of lithium-ion batteries, 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.

Range

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, which helps compare EVs with each other.

The WLTP range tells you how far you can travel on a mild summer day when driving in an urban (80 km/h or less) environment.

Conditions other than this will result in a shorter range.

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, as 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:

  • Hills
  • Headwinds and rain.
  • 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).

What is regeneration?

An EV uses the energy from slowing down to recharge the battery. A petrol-powered car wastes a lot of energy as heat, but EVs are highly effective and capture every bit of spare energy.

Running Costs

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.

You can find the travel cost of any vehicle – use the calculator.

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.
  • Paying 25 cents / kWh is $1.75 to $2.50 / day ($50-75 per month).
  • However, there are many options with power companies (free hours and night rates), so it could be much lower.

57 km a day for under $1 😎

I’m a bit obsessive about getting the best power price.

I’ve changed power companies three times since first owning an EV.

The best deal for me is charging only on a low night rate. Power prices vary significantly from region to region, so do your homework. The savings can be massive.

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?

No.

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.

Unfortunately, rolling resistance and noise are inversely proportional (e.g., a quiet tyre has more resistance). Compare ratings on this EU tool (only some of these tyres are available in NZ).

There are EV-specific tyres; they are often stiffer with more noise (EVs have higher starting torque and are heavier – therefore, can wear quicker).

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. By 90,000 km, I had replaced all four tyres (for the last two, I spent a premium on getting Bridgestone Ecopia tyres).

The only repair issue that came up was 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?

No.

Insurance prices are the same as a combustion vehicle (priced around the car’s value, performance, and the owner’s age and history).

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, EV ownership avoids this. In 2023, RUC was $76 per 1000 km of travel – expect this to apply to EVs eventually.

Environment

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 mineral mining.

Insistence on 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 carless.

The production of very large consumer EVs shifts all the CO2 emissions up front and requires excessive electricity during their lifetime. If we want to “go green,” going carless 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 due to transport emissions (nitrogen dioxide and exhaust particulate).

Is an EV carbon neutral?

No.

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 reduction’s size depends 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.

See the current status of our electricity consumption here or here.

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 daily.

The issue is if ALL those EVs charge simultaneously – this is where smart charging comes in.

References

  • 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.