Prompting an entire country to shift to electric vehicles is a tough task – but first on the agenda, get some cars into the second-hand market.
“If corporates weren’t leading the charge like they are doing in New Zealand, we’d wait a long, long time for EVs to come into the mainstream here,” says Mark Gilbert, the chairman of advocacy group Drive Electric.
Here’s the issue: electric vehicles are still expensive, hence there’s still very few of them, and so infrastructure is not widespread and they haven’t become a mainstream option yet.
Mark points to the current project of 30 of New Zealand’s biggest corporates pledging to turn 30% of their fleets electric by 2019.
Corporates refresh their fleets regularly so after a few years the cars will be released into the second-hand market. The cheaper cars will build out the EV stocks and help with creating more awareness around the benefits of transitioning.
“The new fleets provide an opportunity for staff to gain a better understanding of what an EV is like to drive, giving them a test drive so to speak.
“They’ll talk to their friends over a drink or dinner over the weekend. It’s all about word of mouth around the bbq which helps change people’s perceptions.
Mark says most of the misconceptions can now be mitigated.
“People think (electric vehicles) don’t go very fast, they’re too expensive, and they have range anxiety. But those things can be well and truly put to bed because every year new models come out that do go further, that are getting cheaper, and if the residual value is better than a fossil fuel car then perhaps it’s something that people should be looking at.
With only around 7,000 EVs currently on the road in New Zealand, he believes we need to stop focussing solely on the initial transaction price and look at the holistic long-term benefits, both financially and sustainability, over the life of the vehicle.
Mark says because an EV only has about 20 moving parts, as opposed to a standard car which has about 2,000, the financial benefits come during the period that you own it.
“When people buy a regular car, no one’s adding in the maintenance of the next three, to four, to five years or the cost of fuel over the next three to four years.
“With an EV, all you’re going to be doing is changing brake pads, wiper blades, and checking light bulbs. There’s not a lot else to play with on an electric vehicle.
“A litre of 91 octane fuel is around $2 plus a litre, the equivalent electricity is only about 30 cents a litre. When you put it into that context, you’re talking a running cost of six to seven times cheaper than the fossil fuel - you don’t get that when you write the cheque.”
As for the initial outlay, he believes the cost will come down over time as batteries, which are probably the major component of the vehicle cost today, get cheaper.
“I don’t think prices are going to go up, how much they come down really depends on supply and demand factors obviously.”
With the new government’s strong focus on climate change and lowering carbon emissions, Mark says electric vehicles can play a large part in helping with reductions.
“Each combustible car produces on average 2,000 kg of carbon every year.
“So for every EV that comes on the road, a fossil fuel car isn’t being sold, and that’s arguable 2,000 kilograms of carbon that’s just been taken off the roads. You do the math and see what could happen.
“If New Zealanders understood that we could be energy independent to a larger degree than we are today, because we’re spending 7 to 8 billion dollars a year on crude oil to make fossil fuels, imagine what could be done with 7 to 8 billion if the government had that floating around on their balance sheet.”
He says the reduction in tailpipe pollution is also another benefit, improving air quality, which means better health outcomes.
“That’s why a huge paradigm shift is required to really just open one’s mind to say is this good for New Zealand?
“There’s a wider plan than just car versus car here.
“Could it be good for us? The answer is probably yes. So how do we make it happen?”