New Zealand / Politics

Car yards accused of cashing in on EV discount as scheme wrapped up

07:35 am on 26 February 2024

More than 10,000 subsidies were paid out on vehicles registered in December, the final month of the rebate scheme. Photo: 123RF

Almost a fifth of government subsidies claimed for electric vehicles during the final month of the Clean Car Discount were paid to car yards, not individual buyers.

When the incoming government announced it was scrapping subsidies of up to $7000 each for electric vehicles, people rushed to take advantage during the final days.

According to figures supplied by Waka Kotahi / New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), more than 10,000 subsidies were paid out on vehicles registered in December, the final month of the rebate scheme.

And Waka Kotahi said 1906 of those rebates - almost a fifth of the total claimed - were paid to car dealers for company cars. That compared with 8488 payments to individual purchasers.

Typically, buyers would pay full price for a car and then claim the rebate from the government. To claim a subsidy themselves, car dealers had to sign a declaration saying they would use the vehicle as a company car, courtesy car or demonstration vehicle for at least three months.

But one shopper said he dealt with a dealer who said he had claimed the subsidy in December, and offered the vehicle to him at a discount just over a month later, which would be against the rules.

RNZ spoke to the man, who said the dealer said his car yard had claimed the rebate in late December and promised to pass it on to him a little over a month later.

"It really rung an alarm bell with me," he said. "If they've said this to me once, how many other vehicles have they got there?"

Dealers were allowed to claim the rebate only if they signed a statutory declaration saying they would use the vehicle themselves for at least three months, as a company vehicle, demonstration vehicle or courtesy vehicle.

The man, who did not want to be named, supplied RNZ with a text exchange where a car dealer offered to discount a vehicle by the amount of the subsidy, saying the vehicle had been registered in December to claim the discount. He says the dealer assured him he was allowed to do this.

"There was no indication the sale was conditional on them holding it for three months, they never even mentioned that statutory declaration they would have had to have signed," he said.

The man supplied these details to Waka Kotahi, asking it to investigate. That was on 8 February.

Waka Kotahi replied that it had passed his concerns to the relevant team for review, but that "any further concerns would need to be passed on to the police as this would be a civil matter now".

As of this week, Waka Kotahi told RNZ it was still looking at the complaint and had not passed the matter to police itself.

In an emailed statement, it said this was the only complaint it had received about dealers on-selling company vehicles.

"Giving a false statutory declaration is an offence under the Crimes Act 1961, the investigation of which would be a matter for NZ Police," it said.

The agency's response left the complainant frustrated. He said he was shopping around to research prices because he wanted to sell his own EV on the secondhand market.

He said he recognised the claims had not been proven, but wanted Waka Kotahi to at least approach the car yard to see if it was a wider issue.

And while many buyers would be only too happy to take a discount, he said it undercut the second-hand market if dealers were wrongly using taxpayer rebates to give new buyers cheaper prices after the end of the subsidy scheme.

RNZ asked Waka Kotahi if it was checking whether vehicles registered to car yards were on-sold and registered to a new buyer within three months.

It replied by email: "NZTA actively monitors the change of registered person transactions on applications submitted by dealerships within 90 days."

After a record month in December, registrations of new EVs plunged in January to their lowest level in three years, a major drop from December's boom.