Motor vehicles

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

The use of motor vehicles can impact human health through air pollution, crashes and accidents, climate change as well as through noise. In particular, motor vehicle emissions produced through the combustion of petrol and diesel affect outdoor air quality and human health.

Diesel-powered vehicles and vehicles which are older or poorly maintained tend to produce more emissions. Recent evidence also shows that diesel engine fumes can cause lung cancer [1].

More vehicles on our roads

There were almost 4.4 million motor vehicles in New Zealand in 2019—the highest ever number [2]. In 2019, light passenger vehicles were the most common type of vehicle (3.4 million vehicles, 77% of the fleet), followed by light commercial vehicles (659,000 vehicles, 15% of the fleet) (Figure 1). Together, light vehicles made up over 91% of the total vehicle fleet.

Figure 1: Number of motor vehicles, by vehicle type, 2000-2019

The number of diesel vehicles has increased steadily since 2000, particularly within the light commercial vehicle fleet. In 2019, 76.6% of light commercial vehicles and 8.7% of light passenger vehicles were diesel. Consequently, about 20% of the total light vehicle fleet was diesel in 2019. The truck and bus fleet is almost entirely comprised of diesel vehicles (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Percentage of diesel and petrol vehicles, by vehicle type, 2019

New Zealanders have a high car ownership rate

Between 2000 and 2019, the number of light vehicles per 1,000 people increased from 647 to 818. This rate represents one of the highest levels of car ownership in the world [2].

Light vehicle ownership rates varied across the country (Figure 3). The region with the highest ownership rate was Nelson-Marlborough (1,014 light vehicles per 1,000 people) and the region with the lowest light vehicle ownership rates was Wellington (681 light vehicles per 1,000 people).

Figure 3: Light vehicle ownership, by region, in 2019 (rate per 1,000 people)

Electric vehicle fleet growing rapidly

The electric vehicle (EV) fleet in New Zealand is mainly made up of light vehicles. In 2020, there were almost 24,000 EVs, up from only 161 in 2013 (Figure 4). Over 75% of the light electric vehicle fleet is made up of pure EVs; the rest of the fleet consists of plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Figure 4: Number of light EVs, 2013-2020 

Light EVs are increasingly becoming a larger percentage of light vehicle registrations (Figure 5). In December 2020, light EVs accounted for 2.7% of all light vehicle registrations, compared to 0.03% in January 2014. However, the light vehicle fleet is still dominated by fossil fuels.

Figure 5: Percentage of light vehicle registrations that are EVs, December 2014 - December 2019

In 2020, there were 4.9 light electric vehicles per 1,000 people in New Zealand (Figure 6). The Wellington region had the largest ownership rate per capita (6.6 light electric vehicles per 1,000 people) - despite having the lowest rate of light vehicle ownership per capita overall. Meanwhile, the West Coast region had the lowest ownership rate (1.0 light electric vehicles per 1,000 people).

Figure 6: Light electric vehicle ownership, by region, in 2020 (rate per 1,000 people)

The vehicle fleet is getting increasingly older

Between 2000 and 2019, the average age of light passenger vehicles, motorcycles and trucks has increased (Figure 7). In 2019, trucks had the oldest average age (17.8 years), followed by motorcycles (17.3 years), buses (16.0 years), light passenger vehicles (14.5 years), and light commercial vehicles (12.2 years).

Figure 7: Average age of vehicle fleet, by type, 2000-2019

In 2000, just 8.8% of the light vehicle fleet was 20 years or older, in 2019 it was 21.7% (Figure 8).

Figure 8: Age structure of the light vehicle fleet, 2000-2019

New Zealand's light vehicle fleet is old by international standards

The New Zealand light vehicle fleet is older than the fleet in the United States, Australia, and Canada, and has consistently remained so (Figure 9). Increasing average ages across the light vehicle fleet may be due to improvements in mechanical reliability, allowing vehicles to be kept in running order more easily and thus stay on the road longer.

Figure 9: Average age of light vehicle fleets in New Zealand and overseas, 2002-2019

Fig4

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 (which includes the following if under 3,500 kg: goods vans, trucks, utilities, buses and motor caravans)
  • trucks (including the following if over 3,500 kg: goods vans, trucks, utilities and motor caravans)
  • buses (only those over 3,500 kg, with lighter examples classed as 'light commercial vehicles')
  • motorcycles (including mopeds)
  • electric vehicles (including pure electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles).

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. 2020. 2019 Annual Fleet Statistics. Wellington: Ministry of Transport. Available online: https://www.transport.govt.nz/statistics-and-insights/fleet-statistics/2019-annual-fleet-statistics

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.

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