Clean, light diesels discouraged in NZ

Last updated 12:08 04/11/2011

While hybrid and electric cars enjoy all kinds of attention from environmentalists, politicians and the non-specialist media, it appears that sales of clean diesels are slowly but surely starting to overtake their electric competitors in that previously very un-diesel car nation, the US.


This is confirmed by Lars Ulrich, the head of diesel marketing for Bosch in North America, who says that diesel sales will hit a critical mass sometime in the middle of the decade, making up about 10 per cent of the US market, which means they'll be outselling hybrids by five to one.

What a pity that regulations in New Zealand prevent such a trend from occurring here. We force owners of diesel vehicles weighing as little as 1000kg to pay exactly the same road user charges as one weighing up to 3400kg.

Thus smaller, cleaner cars are being actively discouraged by the authorities who at the same time say they are trying to get us to use less fuel.

An idea of the inequity of the situation is that over 1000km a wee Ford Fiesta diesel has to pay something like an extra dollar in road user charges on top of the cost of every litre of fuel it uses, while something like a full-sized diesel-guzzling monster like a Hummer H1 only has to pay an extra 20 cents in road-user charges per litre over the same distance.

Which one of these two vehicles is causing the most damage to the roads/environment?

Thus, one of the cheapest and easiest way to go greener and meaner with your driving is being largely denied us by an arcane road-user charging regime at which the rest of the world laughs.

A small diesel can be tens of thousands of dollars cheaper than a hybrid of similar passenger capacity to buy, uses less fuel, and is vastly better to drive. So why are we discouraged from driving them?

Why don't we just pay at the pump so that the more mess you make and the space you occupy, you're automatically charged for it from the amount of fuel you have to use?

Follow Dave Moore on Twitter - @mooretothepoint

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Paul_Bags   #1   12:26 pm Nov 04 2011

Being a cyclist this isn't something I've looked into ;p, but very interesting.

muzz59   #2   12:26 pm Nov 04 2011

Absolutely Dave. When driving in Britain a few years back in a diesel Pug I came back convinced diesel was the way to go - until I did the sums. I love modern diesels but the road user charges bugger up the whole equation. Would happily convert if it was pay at the pump like in Britain.

keith   #3   12:36 pm Nov 04 2011

If I remember correctly the method of collecting the road user charges is because farmers, fishermen and others who use fuel for non-road activities were putting the non-taxed farm and fishing boat fuel in their road vehicles to avoid paying road taxes.

The system is in place because of the dishonesty of these groups.


PS again if my memory is correct, cheaper farm petrol was dyed so that its use in road vehicles could be detected.

M   #4   12:47 pm Nov 04 2011

Very few, if any, small diesels are under 1000kg (actual on road weight with fuel and passengers), so they need a 2000kg license, which is why the 1000kg is the same as the 2000kg fee. I note that you have not been able to provide the details of your example sub-1000kg small light-weight diesel. A 4000kg license (required for your example Hummer) is $5 / 100km (around 10%) more expensive than a 2000kg license, and if you loaded your H1 up,you would need to buy an 5000kg license - $8/1000km (around 20%) more expensive, hardly "exactly the same" as you have asserted. It's incorrect to compare RUC on a cost-per-litre basis - it's not designed that way. A Fiesta uses practically as much road as an H1, replacing all big 4x4's and H1's with Fiestas will not reduce the number of motorways we need and the cost of providing those. RUC reflects that reality.

Matty   #5   02:45 pm Nov 04 2011

The Fiesta would still be vastly cheaper to run because the H1 uses about four times as much fuel to travel the same distance. That's a big saving in itself. RUCs have been covered by M.

PS: I never realised Metallica's drummer was also a Bosch executive. Is there nothing he can't do?

Mark   #6   06:05 pm Nov 04 2011

I wrote the Green Party about this some years ago and was fobbed off that it was too hard for farm vehicles - which is of course crap - the rest of the world simply dyes non-road taxed diesel so that it can be easily checked by police...

This is a simple tax on efficiency... I thought that the Green Party would want to address it.

PW   #7   06:21 pm Nov 04 2011

I drive a Peugoet 406 HDI diesel. I do 1200 k's on 70 L. Not a small car but also not a giant beast.

Good article because overseas they have been pushing about clean burning diesels for a great while now. The best vehicle would be a hybrid diesel particularly city driving.

I live in Christchurch and the city driving absolutely kills my ks. I work out of town so half my driving his highway based but I really watch the gauge go down in town constantly getting caught at very poorly coordinated traffic lights (even before the earthquakes) and behind poor drivers.

The only way to remedy this poor mileage in cities (because the CHCH city council has certainly done nothing to improve the efficiency of traffic flow by fixing the lights in the 10 years I have lived here) is to get a hybrid diesel. Electric for stop start and diesel for cruise, etc.

After all fuel will not get cheaper and more plentiful so we have to find our efficiencies now where can squeeze them because the more time spent on the road in transit just costs more in every way. Hopefully this will impinge on the right person in charge of city traffic planning in CHCH. Maybe you could do an article about that so we can actually find out who is in charge?!

Tony   #8   07:46 am Nov 05 2011

Dave, I think you have missed the point. you should not be comparing small diesel with larger diesel as everyones needs and wants differ - a family of five on holiday or towing the family boat in a fiesta anyone? Perhaps a real world comparison of equal variants of diesel and petrol to determine the actual fuel usage and cost? In my experience, the cost of running the diesel is similar, and in some case slightly more expensive than the petrol equivalent, over the same distance, due to high RUC. This is counter intuitive as we know that diesel vehicles use a less fuel for the same distance. We should be encouraging diesel simply because we use less of it than petrol.

B   #9   07:49 am Nov 05 2011

M #4 is entirely right. Perhaps you overlooked that they are indeed road user charges, whence RUC, rather than fuel user charges, which I won't abbreviate. You could make a case for the RUC to be lower for a small car than for light trucks or SUVs, but it would have nothing to do with fuel consumption or greenhouse gas emissions. You can pay RUC either with the more common distance licence or with a time licence, but in either case you are paying for the effect you have on the road network, not the environment. Greenhouse gas emissions will be charged through ETS levy adding to the pump cost, so farmers and fishermen will still pay that. The urban air pollution cost will still come out of general tax.

Alfonso Delgardeo   #10   09:39 am Nov 05 2011

With our modern "electronic" rego tags (ie there is a comprehensive database behind them), surely we can create a system where if the gross weight of a vehicle is under a certain amount (1600kg?) then there are no road user charges applicable. It could easily be printed on the rego sticker at time of renewal. I would also suggest that any vehicle that isn't commercial (ie Ute, Van, Truck) that hasn't had the GST claimed on it (ie is privately owned, again easy enough to do) should be exempt as well.

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