Motor vehicles

This section provides the latest statistics on vehicle numbers and the average age of vehicles in New Zealand.

Motor vehicles produce air pollution, including particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and other gases. These air pollutants can have adverse health effects, including cardiovascular (heart) and respiratory (lung) diseases.

Diesel vehicles, older cars and cars not well maintained tend to produce more emissions.  Recent evidence also shows that diesel engine fumes can cause lung cancer [1].

On this page

More vehicles on our roads
Vehicle emissions have dropped
New Zealanders have a high car ownership rate
Electric vehicle fleet increasing rapidly
The vehicle fleet is getting increasingly older

More vehicles on our roads

The number of vehicles on the road has increased over time, to 3.97 million vehicles in 2016 [2]. About 78 percent of these vehicles (3.10 million) were light passenger vehicles (such as cars and light vans). Together with light commercial vehicles (537,000 vehicles, 14 percent of the fleet), light vehicles make up over 91 percent of the total vehicle fleet in New Zealand (Figure 1).

Figure 1

 The number of diesel vehicles has increased steadily since 2000, particularly light diesel vehicles (Figure 2). In 2016, diesel vehicles made up about 18 percent of all light vehicles, and almost 100 percent of trucks and buses (Figure 3). Diesel vehicles produce more particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide than petrol vehicles, but less carbon monoxide [3]. 

Figure 2

 Figure 3

 Vehicle emissions have dropped

From 2001 to 2013, estimated emissions from on-road vehicles decreased for all key pollutants [4]. Since 2001, emissions had dropped:

  • 46 percent for carbon monoxide
  • 37 percent for nitrogen oxides
  • 26 percent for PM10
  • 28 percent for PM2.5
  • 52 percent for volatile organic compounds.

This is despite a 12 percent increase in vehicle use over this time. These emission reductions are due to improvements in fuel quality and in our vehicle fleet.

New Zealanders have a high car ownership rate

In 2016, New Zealand had 774 light vehicles per 1000 people (Figure 4). This rate represents one of the highest levels of car ownership in the world [2].

Car ownership rates varied across the country and the three regions with the highest ownership rates were all in the South Island: Nelson-Marlborough, Canterbury and Southland.

The region with the lowest car ownership was Wellington with 649 light vehicles per 1000 people in 2016.

Figure 4

Electric vehicle fleet increasing rapidly

In the first quarter of 2013, there were 118 pure electric, 7 plug-in hybrid and 73 heavy electric vehicles in New Zealand. These numbers were increasing rapidly and in the second quarter of 2017, there were 2,648 pure electric, 1,214 plug-in hybrid and 75 heavy electric vehicles in the New Zealand motor vehicle fleet (Figure 5).

Figure 5

In the second quarter of 2017, Auckland and Wellington were the cities with the most electric vehicles per 1000 population (Figure 6).

Figure 6

Light electric vehicles are making up a larger proportion of light vehicle registrations in August 2017 (1.17 percent) than in in January 2014 (0.02 percent) (Figure 7).

Figure 7

The vehicle fleet is getting increasingly older

In New Zealand, light passenger vehicles were 14.4 years old on average, and light commercial vehicles 12.8 years old, in 2016 (Figure 8). The New Zealand vehicle fleet has grown increasingly older over the past 16 years. In 2000, 25 percent of the light fleet was 15 or more years old, but by 2016 this had increased to 39 percent, down from a peak of 42 percent in 2013 (Figure 9).

Older cars tend to release more harmful vehicle emissions [5].

Figure 8

Figure 9

The New Zealand light vehicle fleet is older than that of Australia and other countries with similar motorisation patterns. In 2015, Australia's light vehicle fleet (10.1 years) was 4 years younger than New Zealand's (14.1 years) [2].

Information about the data

Vehicle numbers and average age

Source: Ministry of Transport – The New Zealand Vehicle Fleet Annual Statistics and Monthly electric and hybrid light vehicle registrations/tables
Definition: Number and average age (years) of vehicles in the New Zealand vehicle fleet.  Six categories of vehicles are used:

  • light passenger vehicles (passenger cars and vans)
  • light commercial vehicles (the following if under 3500 kg: goods vans, trucks, utilities, buses and motor caravans)
  • trucks (the following if over 3500 kg: goods vans, trucks, utilities and motor caravans)
  • buses (those over 3500 kg)
  • motorcycles (including mopeds)
  • electric vehicles (including pure electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles).

Vehicle emissions

Source: NIWA – Road motor vehicle emissions
Definition: Estimated tonnes of emissions from on-road vehicles, including from vehicle exhaust and brake and tyre wear. Emissions included carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, PM10, PM2.5, and volatile organic compounds.

Pollutant emissions were estimated using modelling, based on the types of vehicles on the road, and distances and speeds they travel.

References

1. Benbrahim-Tallaa L, Baan RA, Grosse Y, Lauby-Secretan B, El Ghissassi F, Bouvard V, et al. (2012). Carcinogenicity of diesel-engine and gasoline-engine exhausts and some nitroarenes. The Lancet Oncology 13(7): 663-664. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(12)70280-2

2. Ministry of Transport. (2017). The New Zealand Vehicle Fleet 2016: Annual fleet statistics 2016. Wellington: Ministry of Transport. Available online: http://www.transport.govt.nz/research/newzealandvehiclefleetstatistics/

3. Kuschel G, Bluett J, Unwin M. (2012). Trends in Light Duty Vehicle Emissions 2003 to 2011: Auckland Council technical report TR2012/032. Prepared by NIWA and Emission Impossible Ltd for Auckland Council.

4. NIWA. (2015). Uncertainty estimates for the national PM10 indicator. Including an update of vehicle emissions estimates to include 2013. Auckland: NIWA. Available online: https://data.mfe.govt.nz/table/52433-road-motor-vehicle-emissions/

5. Ministry of Transport. (2011). Aging of the light vehicle fleet. Wellington: Ministry of Transport.