With the Clean Car Discount coming into effect on 1 July 2021, New Zealanders can get a discount of up to $8,625 off new and used EV and plug-in hybrid imports. And if you own an EV, you now don’t need to pay road user charges until 31 March 2024.

All up, it’s a pretty good time to consider an electric vehicle. But what’s it actually like driving an EV? How do the running costs stack up? And what’s it like zooming straight past the petrol station?

Making cents of the dollars

For Lottie and husband Rod, it’s a game changer. They’ve owned their second generation 24kW Nissan Leaf for three years now. The decision to buy it came down to two things – environmental impact, and cost. Cue the spreadsheet.

“We downloaded our credit card statements from the previous year and pulled out all our petrol costs to see how much we were spending,” says Lottie. “We worked out that it was costing us about $5,000 a year for petrol in our 2-litre station wagon. Not having to pay that anymore has been really noticeable. I love it.”

Buying an electric vehicle is often more expensive up front, but the running costs are a lot lower and over time, it works out cheaper. Using their spreadsheet, Lottie worked out that it would take four years to pay off the car in fuel savings – so only a year left to go.

Battery health was also a big factor, so the couple chose a car with a battery at a 93% state of health, which is a great way to make sure it will go further, and for longer.

In terms of maintenance, in three years of ownership, the full list includes replacing the tyres once, topping up the windscreen wiper fluid, and buying a new battery for the key.

Reasons to go EV

For Lottie personally, the driving force behind buying an EV was the impact of fossil-fueled vehicles, as well as the future that she sees for her children.

“We’re in a position where our children and grandchildren are going to have very real and different problems to what we have today. I think we need to make changes now to future-proof the world for them.”

Their kids are, perhaps not too surprisingly, electric car advocates, and love getting in the back seat of the Leaf.

Image: Lottie's two kids with the family EV during a recent trip to the snow.

“Not too long ago, Rod took the kids to the Southward car museum where there’s a DeLorean,” says Lottie. “He turned around and there’s our seven-year-old with a sad look on his face because the car has an exhaust pipe.”

Lottie sees the Clean Car Discount as a great step in getting New Zealand moving towards low-emission cars, and after it was announced, had friends calling up asking about their EV.

“I think it’s brilliant because it’s about the bigger picture and encouraging people towards more sustainable options. The message that gets a bit lost is that in a few years’ time, there will be an affordable second-hand EV market for those who can’t afford it now.”

And people are definitely interested. Lottie estimates that when the family uses public chargers, about 90% of the time people come up and ask questions. In the past, she’s even offered rides to people so they can experience what it’s like to drive.

“Rod is an ex-truck driver turned environmentalist,” she jokes. “And even though he was fully on board with the environmental benefits, he was a bit sceptical about the electric motor. In the end, what got him over the line were the test drives – he loved the instant torque.”

We charge the car overnight and because we tend not to let the battery go below 20%, it only costs around $2-3 for a full charge.

Lottie, EV owner

Charging up

Charging up the Leaf is a pretty simple set-up for Lottie, using a standard 240V weatherproof outdoor plug. If it’s raining, the charger simply gets protected with a covering.

Unless there’s a longer trip planned, the car is set to charge up to 80% to look after the battery. Charging from 0-50% is faster than from 50-100% but then the battery level goes down a bit faster at the lower end too.

“On average, I’d say you get about 10-15% charge an hour on a standard 240V home charger,” says Lottie. “We charge the car overnight and because we tend not to let the battery go below 20%, it only costs around $2-3 for a full charge. We also get an hour of power free off-peak which is quite standard.”

The family is no stranger to longer trips in the car, and have taken it on holidays across to Whanganui and over the hills across to the Wairarapa without a problem.

“Stopping off to charge isn’t an issue for us because with the kids, we’d be stopping anyway for a toilet break or to grab snacks. It's really nice actually, while the cars are charging everyone just has a chat or a cuppa.”

Living Gen Less

The family tries to minimise their impact in other ways too, like fixing everything they can so they’re not throwing things away unnecessarily.

"For me, Gen Less is about taking collective problems, and finding collective solutions,” says Lottie. “And it doesn’t have to be massive. We can all start doing something now – and every little bit helps.”

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