What's with New Zealand and its love affair with big vehicles?

It’s one of the biggest purchases that people make, but is it time to rethink our love affair with big cars? 

Your playlist will load after this ad

With the Government cracking down on transport emissions, Sunday’s Tamati Rimene-Sproat explores why change is needed. Source: Sunday

Kiwis love their vehicles, but New Zealand has one of the oldest, dirtiest fleets in the developed world. 

Right now more and more people are finding reasons to jump into a big car, with all of the top five new cars sold in the past year being utes and SUVs.

Toyota CEO and proud ute owner, Neeraj Lala, chalks it up to the Kiwi infatuation with the outdoors. 

"Our vehicles gives us some flexibility on being able to do those things, which is quite unique to other parts of the world."

With bigger cars comes more greenhouse gases, and as the Government aims for net-zero emissions by 2050, it’s a big mountain to climb.

The transport sector currently contributes 40 per cent of the country’s CO2 emissions, increasing by 90 per cent between 1990 and 2018 alone. 

A lot of which can be pinned down to the impact of having more big, thirsty cars on New Zealand’s roads. 

The most immediate change by the Government has been their clean car standards which meant all vehicles coming into the country have to meet a strict CO2 emissions target. 

Lala told Sunday that many in the industry see the Government’s changes as being "too aggressive".

"I commend the Government for taking a real hard, firm approach to climate change. I think the key point here, though, is how quickly can we get there?"

By 2025, vehicle imports must average out at 105g of CO2 emitted per kilometre travelled. 

He said these tough restrictions could mean Kiwis miss out on certain types of cars released in the future.

"I suspect there will be other manufacturers asking themselves just what the future sustainability for their businesses looks like."

To avoid penalties and price hikes, importers will have to switch to cleaner alternatives - but for utes, there aren’t any available here.

For the bigger electric vehicles that do meet the emissions targets, they don’t come cheap. 

Todd Hunter, group CEO at Turners, the biggest used car dealers in the country, said most Kiwis don’t like to spend lots of money on their vehicles. 

"Sixty per cent of people would spend less than $10,000 on a car, 80 per cent of car buyers would spend less than $20,000."

Many families buy a car out of necessity and within a strict budget to help them get from A to B.

He said it undermines the whole point of standards.  

"What we've seen in the past as the unintended consequences of increasing the price of the replacement vehicle, is the older vehicles just simply stay on the road for longer. 

"The average age of the fleet goes up. The emissions change that we're actually looking to achieve as a country won't happen."

The Government is banking on electric vehicles to help curb out carbon emissions with new standards coming out in the next few years. 

This year’s budget included a $300 million incentive scheme for sustainable, low-emission vehicles. 

Engineering Professor Susan Krumdieck said they still won’t be a silver bullet, and that the country needs to look closer at cutting ties with cars altogether. 

"I don’t think that we buy ourselves much time in dreaming that electric vehicles are the answer, because we can’t continue this relationship by substituting a new model."

She said that instead, we have to "reinvent" ourselves and how we get around with less cars full stop.