Teslas galore at Auckland port. Photo / John Barker, Senior Pilot at Ports of Auckland.
The age of the Beamer, the boat and the bach has ended with a gentle purr.
The electric whirr of the Tesla has replaced the automobile in that equation, and any residual hope of
a boat or a bach has been washed away by the cold sweat that comes with a giant mortgage.
A remarkable image of the Auckland port posted to social media this week offered a glimpse at the scale of Tesla’s growing influence on New Zealand road users.
Same vessel, view from the bridge 😊 pic.twitter.com/sahsxhpEOX
— Ports of Auckland (@AKLPort) November 25, 2021
Row upon row of the company’s cars, numbering well into the hundreds, are pictured bumper to bumper after being offloaded in preparation for delivery to customers around the country.
The latest statistics from the Motor Industry Association show that there were a record 3290 Teslas registered in New Zealand in 2021. This is up from 592 in 2020 and 801 in 2019.
Meanwhile, sales of the once-powerful status symbol of the BMW clocked in at 1824.
To put this into further context, Tesla sales across the company’s Model 3, Model X and Model S vehicles made up almost half of all the pure electric vehicles sold in New Zealand in 2021. The model closest to Tesla Model 3’s tally of 3283 sales was the MG ZS EV coming in at 874. Further back you have the Hyundai Kona at 826.
A decent proportion of the growth in Tesla sales can be attributed directly to the Government’s feebate scheme – which offers subsidies of up to $8625 for imports of new and used EVs, hybrids and other low-emissions vehicles.
As soon as the policy came into effect in September last year, the number of Tesla sales shot up from 191 to 1066 for the month. The sales dropped off in October, but then surged right back in November and December.
The MIA data shows that since 2018 there were 4905 Teslas registered in New Zealand, with 2963 of these vehicles taking a spot on Auckland’s congested roads.
MIA chief executive David Crawford notes that these sales only account for new vehicles registered in New Zealand and do not give an indication of many second-hand Teslas imported into the country in that time.
The demand for Tesla vehicles doesn’t seem to be slowing down either. Tesla’s New Zealand website currently indicates an eight- to 20-week waiting period for delivery of a Model 3 (depending on performance specs) and you’ll have to wait until October if you want the more expensive Model X.
The rapid rise in the popularity of Teslas, particularly in Auckland, shows an evolution of cultural status ideal in New Zealand.
The upper echelons of society, who have some spare change to spend on a nice car, are opting for electric – and no name in the electric game sounds quite as flash as Tesla.
Usurping BMW as the preferred status symbol on the road does, however, come with some awkward cultural baggage for Tesla.
All the cultural references about double-parked BMWs are steadily being replaced by barbs aimed directly at Tesla drivers.
This is perhaps most pronounced in Silicon Valley, where Tesla has already garnered a pop culture position as the preferred vehicle of the overlords of tech.
A quick internet search for jokes about Tesla owners serves ups tens of thousands of results at the expense of those who have chosen these electric chariots. And in case you’re wondering what the difference is between a Tesla and a porcupine, the internet informs me it’s a case of porcupines having pricks on the outside.
Dad jokes aside, Tesla has also been at the centre of more serious cultural debate in New Zealand.
When the Government launched its feebate scheme, critics quickly referred to it as a reverse Robin Hood scheme that rewarded those who could afford an expensive electric vehicle and punished those reliant on more affordable petrol vehicles.
In an article written for lobby group the New Zealand Initiative, economist Matt Burgess didn’t mince his words: “Who could begrudge giving more than $8000 of public money to every proud owner of brand-new Tesla Model 3 cars? Just look at their smiles. Life must seem pretty good for these people. A new car in the garage. An exemption from road user charges. And a cheque for $8625 from the Government under its Clean Car Discount policy, known as ‘feebate’.”
In much the same way the petrol-guzzling ute has long been used as the symbol of New Zealand’s rural community, the Tesla has become a representation of champagne-swilling Aucklanders.
This type of symbolism does provide a powerful rhetorical tool, but it’s worth remembering that the feebate scheme does also include cheaper electrical vehicles as well as a range of low-emission petrol options. There’s no doubt that there are vehicles available well below the steep $66,900 asking price for a Model 3.
The cultural appeal of Tesla in New Zealand also extends well beyond the material confines of four wheels and a steering wheel. Many who cannot necessarily afford the hefty asking price for the company’s cars are also pouring money into Tesla shares.
Kirsten Lunman, managing director of investment platform Hatch, tells the Herald the latest data shows that around 15,000 New Zealanders had put more than $150 million into the company through her company’s service by the end of 2021.
That staggering figure comes from only one of the many platforms available to New Zealand investors today – and is in reality far higher than that.
Whether you hate the cars or love them, Tesla is currently plugged into the New Zealand zeitgeist and will not be going anywhere soon. Let’s just hope the drivers are a bit better at using their indicators than the Beamer fans that came before them.