This is a Guest Post by Dr. Kirsty Wild, a Senior Research Fellow in the field of Population Health at the University of Auckland.

The problem barely requires articulation: just at a time when we are adopting Vision Zero in our cities and trying to carve out space for slower, safer transport modes, that space is being filled up by light trucks – double cab utes and SUVs. A kind of rapid ‘massification’ of our passenger vehicle fleet is occurring.  Eight out of 10 new passenger vehicles are now light trucks (SUVs or double cab utes).  Ten years ago none of the best-selling vehicles were in this category.

New double cab utes on the Auckland wharves, March 2021

Car manufacturers such as Ford have been quick to point to ‘consumer demand’ as the root cause of this shift.  But its scarcely believable that this phenomenon is the result of mailbags of letters arriving from members of the public imploring Ford to ‘make us giant cars please’. Light trucks have been and continue to be extraordinarily profitable for the auto industry.

The rise of light trucks (utes and SUVs) is generally understood to have been the result of a combination of strong marketing and weak regulation. When US regulators created new safety and environmental standards for vehicles in the 1970s, they allowed much weaker standards for light trucks, which they understood to be a fairly minor, niche market.  However, weaker standards meant these vehicles were much cheaper to build, and therefore much more profitable. Gerald Meyers, the Vice President at American Motors at the time, describes the gold rush:

“It escaped regulation – we didn’t have to worry about fuel economy much at all, we didn’t have to worry about bumper height standards, we didn’t have to worry about side-impact standards, we didn’t have to worry about emissions standards…it was a dream for us”

The consequences are now becoming evident on New Zealand streets. The US automobile industry shifted their considerable advertising resources to creating new and expanded markets for these vehicles. It is estimated the US industry spent US$9 billion on promoting light trucks in the 1990s; and by 2018 85% of Ford’s advertising spend was devoted to promoting SUVs and pickup trucks. These vehicles were/are marketed to middle and higher income earners in urban areas, as providing increasingly scarce opportunities for more ‘adventure’ and ‘nature contact’, as well as increased ‘safety’.

SUV’s marketed as ‘unlocking’ nature for urban dwellers.

What data we have available to us in Aotearoa confirms the US experience that these vehicles are neither safer nor remotely greener. The shift to larger passenger vehicles has largely wiped out the gains in fuel efficiency we have made in Aotearoa in the last 20 years.  Our number one seller since 2015, the Ford Ranger, produces nearly twice the CO2 emissions of the Toyota Corolla (formerly number one).

Research also shows that New Zealand drivers generally have a poor understanding of the risks of SUVs, with a tendency to employ “naïve physics heuristics” that position ‘bigger [a]s better’ and safe. Yet the mass and height of light trucks, as well as their square accessorised front ends, present increased safety risks to pedestrians and other vehicle users, as well as unique safety risks to light truck drivers themselves.

Analysis of Australian and NZ Crash data from 1987-2017 showed that ‘other affected road users’ are 1.5 to 2 times more likely to be killed or require a hospital admission if struck by a Ford Ranger than a lighter Toyota Corolla. Even the drivers of these vehicles themselves faced particular safety risks: a NZ study of vehicle crashes in 2015 – 2016  found that modern vehicles were generally safer than older models, but that light trucks (SUVs and utes) were more likely to cause serious or fatal injury in roll-over crashes.

The images above show examples of SUV/ute ‘overhang’ reducing the usability and safety of pedestrian spaces in Auckland and Dunedin.

There is also evidence that these vehicles tend to be driven in more dangerous ways. Risky, aggressive, distracted and impaired driving are all more common amongst ute and SUV drivers. New Zealand research found SUV drivers rate themselves as safer drivers, but are actually more likely to report undertaking unsafe driving behaviours.

Many of the new models of double cab ute don’t fit into a standard NZ parking space. Auckland April, 2021.

What do about it?

We propose four strategies to reduce the use of light trucks as urban passenger vehicles.  These strategies are based on tobacco control efforts that have used a combination of safer product design, pricing mechanisms, environmental changes, and advertising restrictions to successfully reduce tobacco use.  The parallels with smoking are not perfect.  We don’t seek to eliminate the use of these vehicles.  However to meet our health, safety and emissions reductions objectives, we clearly need to discourage the use of these vehicles for everyday passenger trips in urban areas in particular:

First, moves to build in better safety and greater efficiency:

  • Import controls might bring forward the ban on new fossil fuel vehicles over a certain weight
  • Design standards, particularly those related to risks to others, should be greatly strengthened.  In other jurisdictions bull bars and other dangerous front-end accessories are banned or more tightly restricted than in NZ.
  • Registration of passenger vehicles could be limited to those that can safely fit within standard parking spaces
  • Clean car standards can help to incentivise smaller vehicles. It is important that both double-cab utes, and Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (the likely early ‘electric’ mode for larger vehicles and SUVs and utes) are covered by these standards.

Pricing mechanisms might include:

  • Remove the exemption from fringe-benefit tax for double-cab utes. It essentially acts as a government subsidy incentivising the purchase of heavier vehicles.
  • Increasing sales taxes, vehicle registration charges and congestion charges by vehicle weight could be used to incentivise a lighter, safer, and less carbon-intensive urban fleet.

Action to foster health- and climate-promoting environments, such as:

  • Steeper fines and more enforcement of illegal parking and ‘overhang’ in pedestrian environments.
  • Parking strategies that explicitly rule out parking space inflation to cater for larger vehicles.
  • Environmental design to discourage unnecessary driving in urban areas, given that larger vehicles appear to pose particular risks to pedestrians and cyclists, even in low-speed street settings.

Limits on advertising:

Given the very high levels of advertising spend by manufacturers of these vehicles, limits on this advertising, and particularly on the use of aggressive and anti-social themes, the portrayal of risky driving, and rhetorical and visual strategies designed to invoke a ‘green’ or ‘environmentalist’ identity in association with these vehicles will be necessary if we are to achieve a shift towards the use of lower-carbon, safer transport modes in our cities.

What else could we be doing to tackle dangerous vehicle inflation?

Acknowledgements: This article draws on a recent peer-reviewed conference paper: Woodward, A., Wisniewski, M., and Wild, K. (2021) Double-cab utes: Causes and consequences.  Transportation 2021 Conference, 9-12 May, Hilton, Auckland.  Many thanks to my co-authors for allowing me to use some of the material in this paper for this piece.

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  1. Removing FBT on double cabs utes is one of the first things the govt should do, it’s the lowest of low hanging fruit.

    I’ve several mates who are chippies that have gone from using vans as their work vehicle (which is their much preferred option) to double cab utes (which they open admit are highly impractical for thier work purposes) solely because they are more practical for the family outside of work.

    1. Given the Revenue minister and the Environment minister are the same person, this could the quickest win ever.

      The exemption isn’t even a law, it’s only an IRD policy interpretation that double cab ute = “work related vehicle”. The exemption could be wiped out without Parliament.

      1. +1

        And in any cases you can buy vans with a second row of seats which are practical for work and family use. Hyundai certainly offers them. Much more versatile than a ute.

        1. Utes are the only non taxi 5 seat vehicle that quality for the FBT exemption. Two row van’s aren’t exempted.

          While Hyundai does make a 6 seat iload crew van, and sells it in aussie, they don’t sell it in NZ. Only option is to get the 9 seat imax and remove a row of seats.

          Ford does offer a 2 row transit custom van in NZ (fairly high spec), as does toyota in the hiace (low spec smaller version of the van only), but I don’t think either are big sellers.


      2. Sigh. This old chestnut. The ‘Ute exemption’ 1) isn’t real and 2) doesn’t matter anyway since FBT rules for small companies were reformed a few years ago anyway.

        1. You’ll be pleased to see that as the government finally acts to prevent the tax situation from encouraging unnecessary double cab ute ownership, Buttwizard, they are also clarifying that it’s about lax enforcement, not the tax rules themselves:

          Just a pity they’re not also looking at the tax rules a little more widely, our high car ownership (and some of the parking mess) stems in part from rules around people being able to drive the company car home, but not for personal trips… hence they own another one. Which explains the four and five car households per two drivers, in some suburbs.

    2. My wife was bowled over 7 years ago on a pedestrian crossing by a speeding Mitsubishi light van. She was thrown a great distance but incredibly survived. The van had no bullbar, no winch, no bumperbar fit for a tank. I am always reminded when seeing these nutty small trucks how lucky she was. And her family. If people did not respond to exotic advertising we would all be far better off. But we do. Bring on EV station wagons.

  2. Is there any NZ research on who is buying these trucks? I see lots of families with young children with them. It seems to go with much more equipment being carted around, such as larger baby buggies and bikes being carted around. The mountain biking community also seem keen on them looking at a local mountain biking car park. In the village i live in where biking has not been all that safe in the past now a significant number of vehicles passing me – or forcing me off the pavement when walking – are these trucks. These are generally not tradespeople.

    1. I agree more nuanced local data would be interesting. You might be surprised at who buys them for the FBT advantage though. “Looking like tradespeople” is not a great definition. Anyone who is an employee and not a sole trader has a potential tax incentive to drive a double cab ute. My employer hands them out for all kinds of roles in lieu of higher salaries.

      1. I was discussing salary package and got offered a choice of double cab ute or SUV (something like an Outlander). Was seen as a big selling point.

        I pointed out that I had a perfectly decent little hatchback car that was comfortable to drive and that I liked, so took the cash instead. Never even filled up the hatch in the year (most it contains typically is a small box of PPE gear if I have to work on site), since I started the job, so god knows why I would have needed an SUV or Ute.

        Funny thing is looking at the car park there is a line up of big black doublecab utes, SUVs etc and my car looking quite colourful and sleek parked in the middle of them

    2. Yes studies have shown they are bought by dickheads. One overlooked benefit is now we don’t have to meet these people and talk to them before judging them. You just have to see someone arrive in a large ute and it acts as a signal to society that the person is a dickhead.

      1. LOL. Studies have shown that intellegent people leave shcool playgound language in the school, when they leave school.

    3. It seems mad to me to buy a ute and then fit a bike rack ON TOP of the load tray. But this is quite common. Clearly the advertisements portraying utes as “outdoorsy” and “woodsy” are resonating with MTB-ers.

      1. I think it’s that our tax system is set up for sole-traders… or sole tradies as I like to call them. The double-cab ute works as a work-related vehicle and a family vehicle. I reckon the system is so open to abuse it’s the norm – Why not fudge a logbook for 90 days – the IRD will never look at it anyway.

  3. I dont think its correct anymore to consider all SUVs as Light trucks. the vast majority of small/medium and even some large SUVs are basically just lifted hatchbacks and station wagons. They have slightly more mass and less efficiency than their low height cousins (although marginal in some cases), but no longer have “square accessorised front ends” or other reductions in safety. The biggest problem is by far the Utes, which still have generous FBT exemptions – no reason a double cab ute should be considered differently to a car or wagon anymore.

    1. FBT is definely the reason for ute dominance, since the most popular used car imports are mostly hatches.
      A lot of tax avoidance going on that ird needs to clamp down on, or even better get rid of the ute/fbt excemption.

  4. SUV is a marketing term. In NZ it covers anything from the diminutive Suzuki Ignis to an imported Chevrolet Suburban (very few around). Mostly it covers the likes of a Toyota RAV4 or a BMW X5. The average SUV in North America (and where this all originated) has been historically based on a ladder frame truck chassis.

    The rise in popularity of utes (pickups etc) has been marketing-driven for the past 25 years. Cast your mind back to the early fishing shows such as ‘Gone Fishing’. This was very deliberate.

    Related to this is the growth in size and numbers of trailer boats. Back when the Holden Commodore/Ford Falcon were being built, and these were once considered ‘tow vehicles’, the maximum tow rating was 2,100kg. The advent of the body on frame ute has seen average tow ratings reach above 3 tonnes. Where once a 5m boat was considered large for a trailer, in 2021, a 7m boat is now trailerable.

    The vehicles themselves aren’t overly cheap to build in 2021 but, the real money is in accessories.

    It is important not to follow some of the extremesim in reporting on SUV’s coming from the US, our market is very different.

    1. The mass market for ordinary cars in the USA has collapsed in the eyes of the big US car makers, leaving the middle to the Japanese makers to supply Accords, Lexus etc. I think I’m right in saying that GM’s Chevrolet brand now just make Corvettes and trucks in the USA. Not many sedans as such, just a few like the Cruze (imported) and the Volt. As noted in the article, they can’t make money on a simple car. Brands like Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Hummer etc have been closed.

      There’s another incentive though, to get a large SUV: because everyone else has one. My old low-slung car can’t see past the other cars on the road these days – makes it difficult backing out of angled car parking spaces – impossible to see around / over the giant twin-cab parked next to it. Its a serious problem – makes life a lot less safe for me, and incites me to get a bigger / taller car just to solve the problem.

      1. Yes the problem of visibility and fear of been crushed by these larger vehicles incentivises others to get the same for their own safety as well.

      2. The US has a bigger problem. If the vehicle you’re buying is over 6,000lbs (2.7 tonne) and used as a business vehicle for just 51%+ of the time, you can depreciate the vehicle by 100% in the 1st year. That’s pretty much every GM/Ford/Chrysler/Toyota pickup/SUV.

  5. This is not an NZ issue but a Global issue. Driving very heavy vehicles of large physical size is now an option for most, with popular culture encouraging uptake. Driving the smallest in the Ford or VW range is not seen as cool. NZ would be taking on the car industry and may be seen as restricting consumer choice. The obvious solution would be to tax on axle weight, physical size and power – the three areas that single out such vehicles – with exemptions for drivers with a genuine need. It would not be popular but is justifiable on safety ground.

    1. Best comment on this yet. Targeted financial differentiation is needed.
      Global collaboration is desirable. There will be countries aligned with what NZ needs.

    2. You probably don’t even need the exemption. If they really need it they can pay extra for it or we may end up with the system getting abused. Something that damages people and the planet more should pay extra.

    3. I have a Toyota Hilux ute for my farm, and a Prius V for everywhere else. The only time my Hilux goes off the farm is to tow a horse float.
      I’m hanging out for the day when something like a Hilux goes fully electric (and tractors for that matter).
      BTW, not everything SUV is the size of a Raptor – most ‘SUV’s’ now are like Rav4’s – small/mid sized, and rapidly being electrified e.g. Tesla Model Y.

      1. I fear that tractors will never (for many decades at least) be feasible for batteries. The reason cars can have decent range is they are relatively efficient, once up to speed, and with regen brakes for stop go traffic, they’re not using that much energy to keep going. The 170 horsepower tractor panting all day while it drags a grubber or set of discs through the ground at 5 km/hr is not exactly a picture of efficiency.

        1. On the other hand electric motors excel at low-speed high-torque applications. Hence you find diesel-electric used in trains.

          Battery weight and range is not so much of an issue either when you look at some tractors using water in the tyres or stacks of plates to increase weight on the ground, Even on range, tractor use is often measured by hours the engine is running and not km travelled.

          I think around orchards, vineyards and other uses, will see uptake of EV’s or hybrids once technology comes down in price. Sure there needs to be some issues like PTOs that mean will take a while for all uses like plowing, but can see that small tractors in particular could still go EV

        2. Yes, and the ability to use or recharge various electric tools anywhere around the farm will make them popular.

    4. Once we have a system of congestion charging in place, this could also apply. If your vehicle is classified as ‘heavy’, too long or too wide then there will be a significant multiplier to the change to enter the city centre etc. it might make a few people think twice about what is an appropriate office vehicle.

  6. Even less emissions concerned countries such as Russia have a mechanisms to handle SUVs. For example in Russia you would pay something like $20-$30 per annum of transport tax for a car like Kia Picanto and around $1000-$1200 p/a for something like Range Rover (which is also a subject for luxury ratio, taking it somewhere around $2000 p/a). Of course it won’t prevent rich from buying these cars, but certainly takes a lot of these monsters from roads as they get older. There are also charges per cubic centimetres of engine to import a used vehicle, the bigger the engine is, the more pricey each centimetre is.

    1. All sensible suggestions which could easily be implemented here. Imagine the outrage of the Hosking brigade though!

      1. Do you think it will mean that Hosking will leave the country? If so, this should be passed under urgency. It will reduce ‘false news” and noise pollution that Hosking generates plus there are real safety and environmental gains.

        Ditch the FBT and put an emission carbon tax on vehicle registration. Simple changes. IF you want then you could use the money to subsidies low and zero emissions vehicle.

    2. Honestly speaking these taxes mentioned above don’t really fight SUVs as such. People already have a lot of unnecessary expenses when they drive a crocodile like Raptor every day, everything is 2-3 times more expensive in comparison to something like Focus or Corolla: car itself is more expensive, petrol consumption is significantly higher, tyres are bigger and more pricey and so on and on, all this counts to dozens of thousands of dollars every year, extra thousand or two won’t really prevent person from buying something they perceive as “cool”. I think the only rational solution is to pressure car producers on emissions. Direct taxes are really a thing for countries with major shadow economy.

      Under pressure it is eventually possible to produce quite a big car producing not much emissions, look for example, at Nissan Serena with e-Power transmission it emits just 121 g/km which is pretty good for 7-seater and less then emissions from Ford Focus.

  7. The one obvious solution is to tax the crap out of fossil fuels. Maybe start off low with planned increases every year. Apply it to all fuels in proportion to the damage they typically do. And no exceptions.
    Most people typically only make the right choices when they are hit in the pocket.

    1. Not sure if you’ve noticed, but all the new electric cars being announced are SUVs. Even Hummer has been reincarnated as a two-tonne electric truck. Hyundai. Porsche. SUVs. Ford. SUVs and Trucks. In fact, it is telling that Rivian, a brand new electric vehicle start up, opened with two vehicles in their first week: a truck first up, a SUV second.

      So the rise of the SUV is not being driven by Fossil Fuels – its driven by something else. And not even penis size – the Mitsubishi ASX is advertised in NZ as a “perfect accessory” to match your dress and your french bulldog.

  8. I think more research needs to be shared with the public around the debunking of the relationship between car size and male genetalia, this may sway a lot of the buyers back to normal sized cars when they realise it doesn’t compensate for anything.

    1. “Sir, no offense, but if that vehicle makes you yourself look small, imagine how much smaller the rest of you seems right now. Just saying.”

      1. To paraphrase: It’s not the size of the vehicle that counts, but how well it manoeuvres… (I guess range would be important as well).

    2. you got in one there mate, dickheads drive utes, I wouldsay 90% of utes have never been off road or in 4wd. the perception of safety is bullsh£t as higher center of gravity means they roll over easily in a crash.

  9. I was amazed to see a radio-station branded one of these rolling around the city the other day. With just one person in it, of course.

    And not just any radio station; a famed alternative one with nominally progressive values. I mean, WHY??! What could they conceivably need to haul in that thing?

    Surely the power of the playlist is sufficient to crush competitors. No need to take it to the streets and bring innocent civilians into it too.

  10. It would be interesting to know if the same issue is being had by buyers in Europe. Not sure what their top sellers are these days – generally speaking, narrower road width in places like small towns in Italy mean that people still buy small cars – the new Fiat Cinquecento is still a big seller. Obviously highways are all full width same as here, but if you can’t physically get your car to your house, then that has a big effect on the size of the car you would buy.

    In the UK, despite the tag of “Chelsea tractors” for Landrovers etc, certain roads have “width restrictors” to filter out large trucks – also works a treat for people in large SUVs if they are not good drivers as they scrape the sides of their vehicles or lose their wing mirrors on the steel bollards.

    1. Ute’s are all the rage now in the UK. Not like it was 10+ years ago when Transits were all the rage. The Jaguar I Pace is one of the most popular and pricy electric cars going. Fully SUV.

  11. Soon one or two things will happen which will make this trend irreversible:

    1 — It will become increasingly impractical to use a normal car. The bonnet of a ute is about as high as the roof of my car. If one pulls up next to me at a give way line it completely blocks my view.

    2 — More and more people just don’t dare to go out in traffic with an old school car like a corolla anymore.

    Also if you look up prices for a Corolla and a double cab Hilux you’ll find they both start around $30,000, I’m not sure what to think about that.

  12. These utes are a pain in carparks as well. Our parking spaces are 5.0m long but big utes are around 5.5m long so they hang out of the space and restrict the aisle for everyone parked beside them or on the opposite row.

    We should have special parking for them located as far from the pedestrian doorway as possible.

      1. Westgate is 2.5m by 5m. Northwest is 2.6m by 5m I think. Most people don’t do anything less than 2.6m wide now for retail to improve door opening.

        1. So, an alternative answer would be to make all the car parking spaces smaller, put width restrictors on the In/Out gates, to keep them out. Unfortunately that has the knock on effect of decimating the market for goods sold at your Mall.

  13. Increase on road cost.
    Increase annual rego costs.
    Subsidize “Corolla” style EV’s & Hybrids, i.e. not the Hummer EV.

      1. Yea I’m not sure “tax ICE cars out of existence” is going do do anything but hugely impair mobility for people with less access to alternatives to driving, but sure, that’s a sane rational response with literally no downsides whatsoever.

  14. Cycling in Auckland in a nutshell – a brand new bike lane with a curb hopping Ford Ranger blocking it as the driver “just popped in to the shop”.

    I walk my kid to kindy and pass a few house building sites. I’ve had to ask builders to move their vehicles (utes and vans) off the footpath or berm many times so my kid doesn’t have to walk through mud or on the road. There is ample street parking here. They are usually happy to move but sometimes look at me like I’ve got two heads.

    Many friends have “upgraded” their cars to SUVs as their families grow. I evangelise station wagons constantly but they are becoming a niche seller.

    It will take a big culture shift to change this attitude.

  15. One of the reasons for buying these cars is that people want to access “nature” easily. While near Auckland most of the outdoor recreation opportunities can be just as easily accessed by standard cars, this is not the case in the South Island, where there is quite some difference in what you can access depending on the type of car you’ve got. As someone with a standard car, I have to say it is a bit annoying being passed by 4WD vehicles, while you’re carrying the backpack along a track in a National Park. Maybe DOC and local authorities could foster recreation access that does not encourage the use of large vehicles. In my opinion that also means some good access by public transport.
    We might also need to realise that it is cheaper to hire a 4WD car for 10 days of the year than buying a new car just for those days we go into nature.

  16. Off topic slightly but on my ride into work I passed two developments side by side on my street- I counted 26 vehicles associated with the sites. Many were SUV and double cab utes but some were just regular cars- all blocking footpaths and parked on blind bends though. the ide that all tradies need a big vehicle is also false- these sub-sub contractors get out of their vehicle with a tool belt and no more. the other week as I waited for the stop go worker to turn his sign we had a chat- he had driven solo up from South Auckland to West Auckland to spend all day holding a sign. Now for the sepia tainted bit- when I was a lad I rode my bike to the bosses house where we loaded up the tools and with the rest of the crew, who had also rode or walked or come by bus, then drove in the van to site – we also got holiday pay and sick pay as we were employed by the builder not sub -sub-sub contracting.

    1. Now it’s provide your own tools, make your own way to site. A smaller EV or PHEV van would be more suited for urban trade use. Parking management is excluded from TTMP or Consents except in a few cases, but then mostly for delivery, not worker Parking which is supposed to be an individual responsibility. Poor results guaranteed.

      1. I asked about EV/PHEV options at my work if I was going to be forced to have a ute or SUV as a company vehicle.

        They were interested, but they raised some good points I had not considered. Like guys working on site get fuel cards and so all ‘work related’ travel is paid for and accounted for. But if charging at home, who pays? Not all of the younger service people even have a garage with charging available.

        There was also some general concerns about people who might be on call. So they use the BEV during the day, but if called out afterhours, and the battery is too flat, then they might have to cancel attending a critical issue.

        PHEVs help here of course, but then the Outlander PHEV that was trialled was marginal in terms of cost effectiveness. The extra $10k in purchase price for the PHEV meant it was unlikely to give pay back compared vs potential depreciation caused by battery life expectancy.

        I am still angling for BEV/PHEV vehicles for at least some, if nothing else for CO2 emissions, but not quite as easy if you are a corporate fleet manager.

    2. Or… build most of it prefabricated in a factory, everyone can cycle to work on a push bike, because their tools are safe at work – and only one truck (and a crane) goes to site. You know it makes sense….

  17. We do need to remember the range of uses and circumstances across NZ. There are some quite legitimate business uses in rural production that still need to be accepted, but the harmful urban uses must be curtailed. Perhaps alcohol rather than tobacco may be the comparison. However, tackling tobacco industry does match the issues being faced for these light trucks.

  18. Thanks for highlighting these major blights on our communties. Cycle commuting (in AKL at least) has become so much more dangerous with these vehicle types coupled with the very aggressive driving styles and self-entitlement they engender.
    Always in the back of one’s mind is the hugely increased risk of death or very serious injury when you are hit by one.

    It really irks me how yet again, we (NZ) bow down before US trends / advertising might. So many aspects of the massive popularity of SUV’s (what a wank of a term) and large utes are just so disheartening. Rampant consumerism just one of the worst aspects.

    Yet again, NZ is a generation or two behind progressive country’s with legislation to protect its citizens and its environment.
    Viz: red light running and mobile phone fines; driver re-licencing and education; policing of motorists (pretty much non-existent); etc, etc…You all know the plot here.

    Funnily enogh, the recent mobile phone fine increase saw an interesting few days here in College Hill, AKL. I work across the road from the 4 storey new police base. The very next day there were a bunch of cops on foot on Beaumont St targeting drivers using their phones – but apparently not those running the red lights at a very busy intersection. Just so disappointing that we have such a lack of spine (and resource) to get anywhere near closing down such appalling anti-social behaviour.

    Finally, has there been any talk at all of increasing fuel taxes (say, a progressive increase over 5 years) to get people using the damn things less and less? The collection could then obv go to bettering PT (lower fares anyone?).
    The vast majority of people here are sheep and will very much resist any change to their norm, especially their “right” to drive and park on public roads for as long as possible.

    I can see the Onehunga safer road debacle becoming more common and leading to pretty bad behaviour – whether online, physical or verbal.

  19. For anyone interested in the rise of XXL 4×4 vehicles as substitutes for conventional cars, I really recommend ‘High and Mighty’ (2005) by Keith Bradsher. It’s a fascinating read that covers the emergence of off-road vehicles as passenger cars in the USA, including tax policy, safety regulations and protectionism. This really started after the 1970; American cars were suddenly subject to strict regulations on fuel economy, emissions and crashworthniess, but SUVs had far fewer constraints.

    ‘High and Mighty’ also looks into the psychology of selling SUVs and the motivations that influence people when choosing aggressive-looking cars. The book forecasted that that the SUV trend would spread globally from the USA to take over the world. This was in 2002…19 years later and the 4x4s are taking over New Zealand. Don’t say we weren’t warned.

    “…So why are people buying SUVs at such a rate? The picture that automakers have formed of why people buy SUVs has been pretty consistent. SUVs have taken over Hollywood and are especially popular with people who care about appearances, the research shows. SUV drivers are frequently married with children, but are uncomfortable with both. “We have a basic resistance in our society to admitting that we are parents, and no longer able to go out and find another mate,” said David Bostwick, the market research director at Chrysler. “If you have a sport utility vehicle, you can have the smoked windows, put the children in the back, and pretend that you’re still single.”

  20. The problem with all of this is that utes are awesome. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but they work for a lot of the things people want to do with their vehicles – they carry stuff from Mitre10, they carry kids and bikes and all those things, they’re comfortable and comparatively cost about the same as the card kiwi’s love – Outbacks and Legacys are just 2 examples.

    I think there’s a wider issue of corporate fleets that have heaps of them because their customers think they’re cool – like building supply companies, electrical wholesalers, those sorts of things. They trundle around town visting clients all day etc.

    1. For all these things you should get a van. If you regularly move bulky stuff you can get a van where you can remove all passenger seats. If you don’t need that much space, get a small van like a Toyota Funcargo or a station wagon.

      I can imagine a ute with a canopy will sort of work. But you still get this raised suspension, and the space will be separated between the tray and the cabin.

      1. The off-road capabilities of a modern ute (compared to the car-based models popular in the 1980s and 90s) compromise their practicality. Much higher load tray, larger wheels and wheelarches, longer suspension travel, higher ride height…none of these aspects make a vehicle any more practical or better-handling…they reduce interior space and just make it look fierce. GRRRRR!

        Unfortunately this seems to be a selling point.

      2. No one is going to buy a van over a Ute. That’s fantasy stuff. The cheapest new van from toyota is $46k, the same price as the cheapest 4wd hilux (there are 2wd utes cheaper too). Vans handle like crap, look lame and are way less comfortable than a ute.

        The whole point of a ute is in its name, utility – they do lots of things well. Admittedly lots of those things are marginal use case things, but those are things that matter to people (like what they use it for in the weekends) rather than its appropriateness.

        1. I would argue Utes do most things averagely. They cant carry that much stuff, they cant tow that much stuff, they don’t have that much internal volume, they don’t have that much external volume. They mostly fit in car parks, but are a bit annoying.

          But for every use case there are better vehicles.

          Car sharing is a model that works for this kind of thing well in other parts of the world. And we have it here a little bit too, just not so cheap or good here yet.

          “but those are things that matter to people (like what they use it for in the weekends) rather than its appropriateness.”
          For sure, its the idea that people really like. “I could go away four wheel driving if I had one of these, I could take the kids away camping etc”. But in reality those things don’t happen nearly as often as they think they will. And usually there are much better options available for these purposes than daily driving a brand new ranger. I think this is where advertising has played a big role.

        2. If you’re in Europe you can buy a van with 1 or 2 extra rows of seats behind the driver + passenger seat in the front. You can remove various combinations of these seats. That gives you a lot of flexibility to carry stuff and people.

          You also have the small vans like Toyota Funcargo or Citroen Berlingo.

          Bad news is, I don’t think can even buy any of these in New Zealand.

          I also am not sure why a 2WD Hilux is so cheap — same price as a Corolla.

          (and vans may look lame — that is a matter of opinion. People have opinions about utes too)

        1. A van at least doesn’t have a raised suspension. The shape of the bonnet gives you a less tall blind spot in the front. It also fits into a 5m parking spot.

          If you need a big car, then so be it.

    2. Personal helicopter rides would be extremely popular and awesome if we subsidized them much more heavily too. Extreme example, not that applicable, but still. The popularity of a thing is not necessarily the best measurement of how good it is overall.

      Now I don’t have children, but I don’t really see how bikes necessitate a Ute. Towball racks, or a trailer if you’ve got heap of other stuff too seems like a much more flexible solution, instead of having to lug around and park a large vehicle everywhere you go. The mitre 10 example is another one, that is a trip a week kind of thing for those trips where you are actually have large items for an avid diyer. Which again would probably be better off with a trailer anyway.

      The cost issue is the key though, how a vehicle that is physically much larger costs the same is perplexing. Pure materials costs would put an end to that I would have thought, plus the additional societal cost. Scaling regos would be a reasonable solution, based on weight, crash test data (both to occupants and people in other vehicles/ pedestrians), fuel use, axle weights etc.
      New Zealand doesn’t really have the levers required to up the safety and efficiency and therefore raw cost of these vehicles. The manufactures simply wouldn’t sell in NZ

      1. I have children and have never really considered a ute. The main benefit they have, an open tray, can easily be solved by having a towbar on your car and either owning or hiring a trailer.

        The open tray is a downside as well as it either means you have an unsecured boot or you need to cover it up to secure it reducing its utility value.

        If I lived in the South Island again I’d be tempted to get one for 4WDing but even then it wouldn’t be the main vehicle.

        A reasonable number of utes are 2WD now, which says all you need to know about their target market.

    3. I would much rather own a Subaru Outback/Legacy & i remember the days when station wagons were the urban staple in NZ for families. Utes are the height of poor taste and lack of class – is there anything more basic/cheugy than a Ford Ranger Raptor?

    1. Changing the incentives in a free market as suggested is pretty far from socialist. In fact is pretty well established as necessary for a well functioning free market.

      Allocating cars based on “need” or whatever poor approximation they manage to come up with would be socialist.

    2. Most countries have rules on car size, weight, etc. Often this is reflected in taxation. One example is the Japanese car market, where vehicles <1.7m wide are liable for lower taxes. This helps to keep car sizes down.

      Car designs reflect a plethora of regulations. Pop-up headlights for example. These weren't just a 1980s fad: They were a design response to strict US Federal regulations around headlight heights and dimensions, coupled with a desire for cars to have lower, more strealined front ends. Pop-up headlights solved this problem for over a decade but when US regulations were relaxed, they largely vanished from new cars.

      There's an interesting video here which tells the pop-up headlights story well:

      1. That and EU law bans them as not safe for pedestrians when deployed on new models. Same rule applies to hood ornaments.

    3. A capitalist society will not work if you don’t deal with unpriced externalities.

      One of which is that these utes are more dangerous to people around you.

    4. …not nearly socialist enough ! If we lived in a REAL socialist country, we would all be driving Trabants with an 8 year waiting list. We are so far removed from socialism that its not even funny.

  21. All good suggestions that are meeting with near-100% approval on this group. But they run up against the extreme popularity of SUVs and utes. Even the most obvious step, removing the FBT exemption, which has been discussed here and on the FB EV page for years and years and years, seems to go nowhere. As far as I know, no one has been able to get any sensible engagement with anyone in government or industry on this issue.

    What we know: the clean car standard and the feebate are coming. CO2-based RUC may be announced soon too. These will do something but could just lead to a lot of hybrid SUVs and utes. Fuel taxes and bans are too easy to attack and are unlikely. Likewise weight and size-based registration fees.

    The only other things that could be possible would be increased parking charges and enforcement.

    Basically we are in the very early stages of dealing with a massive problem, which most of the public doesn’t think is a problem at all but is actually a good thing, and the most we can do is agitate (like in this post) and try and bank what gains we can.

    As for other ideas, how about free parking for little cars?

  22. The thing about “free” parking is that people love it. In Palmy people will drive a long way to avoid paying $1 an hour. So the impact can outweigh the strictly financial side.

    1. But does the impact outweigh the need for road reallocation and systems change?

      I could see differentiated pricing as useful, though.

    2. Just like the people who drive miles out of the way and queue to save a couple of cents per litre on a petrol special. The average punter is poor at evaluating cost and value.

  23. A few years ago, my wife and I rented a ute in the US for a West Coast road trip, not because we were originally intending to but because it was cheap to rent (no one-way fee for picking it up in the south and dropping it off in the north for some reason). Auxiliary benefit of being able to pitch our tent in the tray.

    However, the reason this has any relevance is that we stayed a night in central San Francisco in the parking buildings there they priced based on the size of the vehicle. A small car was $20-30 for a night whereas the ute was $50. Steep but seems like a valid ratio based on the excessive size of these things.

  24. Friends bought their 17yo son his first car recently. My wife asked me to guess what it was…..took 2 guesses. Yup a huge Ford Ranger, not new but hell….17yo, had his licence for a year. Lives in AKL and “he’ll be able to drive down to the bach on Coro by himself.”
    (cue facepalm).
    I don’t see these guys anymore due to my frustration over their consumerist babble.

  25. Some additional points:

    First, moves to build in better safety and greater efficiency:
    – Cafe style standards would put pressure on makeup of the new vehicle fleet. Would push some distributors to at least move to e versions
    – Theoretically Cafe style standards could be applied to 2ndhand imported vehicles as well (probably by importer rather than manufacturer).

    Pricing mechanisms might include:
    – Feebate scheme – new (& potentially even 2ndhand imports) ICE vehicles pay a levy which is given as a rebate on E vehicles. The feebate could be proportional to expected carbon emissions (but is also double taxation if carbon tax applied to fuel)
    – Carbon tax on fuel. Carbon prices are rising, thus so will the ETS

    Action to foster health- and climate-promoting environments, such as:
    – Parking is underpriced in most situations. Raise the parking pricing to true costs. Light trucks may still be bought but this will reduce their use (mode shift) same with all private travel that requires parking.
    – Environmental – new infrastructure standard meeting vision zero standards (e.g. fully protected cycle and ped movements at signals to avoid conflicts with turning vehicles)

    1. Umm, what do you mean by “cafe style standards”? Genuine question. Something to do with coffee? Cars no higher than an outside coffee table?

  26. At my workplace here in a rural part of Aus we have 2 Corollas in our fleet that hardly get used. With kangaroos on most of our highways we don’t feel safe driving them. We have 3 utes in the pool, which have to do most of our towing and fieldwork, but these 3 are sometimes not enough, so I recently had to book a Subaru Liberty instead. This felt fragile driving through a muddy paddock, lacked a towbar, and it needed a thorough clean afterward. While NZ doesn’t have road hazards like kangaroos, it would have stray sheep that could right off a small car. Any government action to limit the spread of utes needs to consider the different needs of rural areas.

    1. The legal liability being on the farmer for any damage from stock on the road has meant its rare to have random sheep roaming around at least in our area. I know we have better gates / good fences along the road in particular.

      The feeling of safety in SUVs is one of the big advantages. How that safety translates into real life is debatable And how it translates when you hit someone else is cut and dried much more dangerous.

      NZ currently has registration class for farm vehicles, they don’t have to get a wof and the rego is cheaper, not sure about diesel kms works. The condition is they cant leave xkm of the farm unless you’re going to a local garage. Something like this where there is an incentive (but stronger than currently) to use a different vehicle for going to town / being in cities is not without precedent, and would be a pretty reasonable solution IMO.

    2. Instead of kangaroos we have a plague of aggressively driven ever-larger utes. Their advertising says it all – each new model claims to be higher and wider than the competition.

  27. When visiting Argentina in late 2019 was interesting to see size-based parking charging in B.A. city lots. Prices were relative to vehicle size $120/hour cars, $140 4×4, $180 ‘Pick Up’.
    For comparison Peso $120 ~ 180 was about nz$3-5 at the time. Maybe Auckland should consider this for the behemoth SUVs & Utes clogging the CBD.
    (photo in blog linked to comment)

    1. Central Auckland has far more “alternative transport options” than Dunedin which is a typical NZ provincial city, completely dominated by cars. I don’t think they’ve got any bus lanes whatsoever currently.

  28. Advertising. Ford and Holden closed the factories that made Falcons and Commodores. In NZ they switched their advertising over to the double cab utes as the “natural” replacement. What we have is the result.

    People buy what they are pushed. The car companies are pushing utes, so that is what people are buying. According to a current Toyota add (which just about made me vomit) utes are great because you can join an alpine off road traffic jam.

  29. Base the ACC component of the registration on the danger to other road users. So the ACC component would be proportional to (or proportional to the square of) the mass of the vehicle. In a collision the acceleration of the smaller vehicle is heavily influenced by the mass of the largest vehicle.

    This crash is a graphic illustration.

    The ute crossed that crossed the centreline clipped another vehicle, crashed head on into a third vehicle and continued to travel forwards – the occupants of the ute survived. The car that was hit was flung backwards killing the occupants.

    1. I do not plan to cross the entreline but am pleased to know that my ute increases my crash survival risk.

    Light car $340.40 $295.00 $277.70 $239.34 $217.00 $236.46 $120.00 $322.10 $243.94
    Small car $340.40 $347.00 $277.70 $279.32 $217.00 $236.46 $159.00 $360.80 $268.18
    Med car $509.50 $496.00 $277.70 $339.29 $342.00 $267.46 $276.00 $511.50 $358.56
    Large car $693.25 $496.00 $277.70 $399.26 $450.00 $325.46 $414.00 $511.50 $410.56

    Our Australian cousins have different registration fees depending on the size of the vehicle.

  31. what do people think about reviewing the vehicle safety rating system? The five star safety rating that models like the Ford Ranger carry is a big selling point. But the driver of a Ranger is twice as likely to kill another road user or put them in hospital as the driver of light car like the Corolla. Road users within the double cab ute may be more likely to survive a crash than other vehicle occupants, but surely this advantage should not cancel out the fact that large, aggressively designed vehicles like the Ranger are a hazard to other road users.

    1. Yes, I think the safety rating should be weighted to the safety outcomes for people who don’t have the advantage of metal protection, a bit of consideration for people who are in other vehicles, then to the passengers in the car, and lowest of all to the driver. This requires a complete review.

        1. No, because the drivers have the most ability to prevent the crash, and it is the weight and speed of their vehicle that causes the injury.

  32. When I constantly see the advertising romanticisising these vehicles it just makes me cringe. People are completely sucked in by the hype about Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux.
    These advertisements should be banned.

  33. Auckland is a unique case. Relentless infill and hirise housing development without accompanying infrastructure development has filled the streets with masses of people on solo vehicle trips as if it is still 1960. They will keep buying cars and utes and keep trying to drive everywhere as if it were yesterday.

  34. Some excellent comments in this thread, thanks everyone. It’s not just a NZ problem, though the double cab ute may well be NZ’s particular flavour, but the Chelsea Tractor in London/UK is a reality too. Like far too many things what the US does first, the rest of the world follows. For this BEV owner, NZ’s backward transport policies and NZers’ entitled attitude to driving and big cars are a matter to despair over.

  35. Remove the FBT exemption for double cab utes;
    Yes yes yes 1,000 times yes!
    Everybody knows these things are a huge tax rort, often driven by people who don’t need them for work, and are confident IRD will never check up on their personal use.
    I really object to huge, unnecessary vehicles that damage the planet and are harmful to the health of Kiwis being funded by MY tax dollars. Usually with flash ‘mags’ and shiny bars – bet they are ‘work related’ as well. Yeah right.
    Did you know that over 200 Kiwis die EVERY YEAR from transport related pollution?

  36. I have a real problem with this article, even though the sentiment is right. The terminology is incorrect. Light trucks is universally accepted to mean a light commercial vehicle and light duty heavy commercial vehicle (ie a vehicle that can be still driven on a car licence). So Ute’s are one class of LCV and small trucks up to 6.0T GVM (which in NZ is a heavy commercial vehicle, but can still be driven on a car licence). But to lump SUV in here is wrong. An SUV is a passenger vehicle. The biggest sub- segment of SUV is snow small SUV (so vehicles roughly speaking no larger than a Corolla and often smaller). Then the second biggest segment by volume is mid-sized SUV. This isn’t Commodore size, but smaller. So by lumping SUV in with utes the article is a mess

  37. If a business owns a double-cab ute for no reasonable work-related purpose, and injures someone due to poor visibility.
    Is that a breach of health and safety regulations? The argument would be that they haven’t considered the unnecessary risk for other people.

  38. Terrific article on an important looming issue for New Zealand – given the need to improve Road Safety and achieve mode shift. Thanks!

  39. Anyone who lives nearly anywhere in Rodney needs a high riding 4wd just to use the roads given then seriously unsafe condition they’re in.

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  41. “The surge in urban light trucks presents both opportunities and challenges. This calls for a strategic approach to urban planning, emphasizing sustainability and efficient transport solutions. Balancing convenience with environmental impact is key. Collaborative efforts between policymakers, industries, and communities are essential to navigate and harness the positive potential of this transportation shift

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