This is a guest post by Greater Auckland reader MrPlod
On Sunday, September 3, 1967, just 55 days after New Zealand converted to Decimal Currency, Sweden changed from driving on the left-hand side of the road to driving on the right hand side.
As you might imagine, this switch was anything but easy. The decision was not taken lightly and took many attempts to finally get approved. But they did it and now have some of the safest roads in the world.
Finally, everything was ready. At 4:50 a.m. on September 3, 1967, as crowds of people gathered to watch, all vehicles on the road were instructed to come to a halt. They were then directed to move carefully from the left side of the road to the right, and wait. At the stroke of 5:00, following a radio countdown, an announcement was made — “Sweden now has right-hand driving” — and traffic was allowed to resume. Time Magazine called the event “a brief but monumental traffic jam.”
In this post I will argue that NOW is the right time for New Zealand to be making the same change because for a nation that imports 100% of its road transport vehicles this will align us with the major vehicle producing nations of the future which are ALL right-hand drive (RHD).
For starters 80% of the world’s motor vehicles are manufactured today in right-hand drive nations. This has been the case since the mid 1990s.
The top ten RHD nations include all the leaders in volume production except Japan:
There are a number in here building other nations’ vehicles but importantly the top three EV building nations stand out above; China, Germany and the USA.
Then consider this table. The annual production of the top nine LHD nations.
Apart from Japan, none of these can be considered to be at the vanguard of automotive design and development. And NONE are at the vanguard of EV design & construction. The UK might be for high end and exotic cars, but the rest are mainly manufacturing narrow ranges of LHD versions of other nations’ vehicles. LHD can be summed up as Japan, Indonesia, and the British Empire.
On the basis of the above alone New Zealand would open itself up to a far greater range and variety of importable vehicles were we aligned to the RHD rather than the LHD nations.
The LHD stand-out, Japan, is dragging its feet in transitioning to EVs. Sure the hybrid Prius was a huge advance when introduced in 1997 and Toyota has done well to hybridise most of its fleet but are resisting a full transition to EVs. Their huge investment in hydrogen is a side show. Ask any competent physicist or chemical engineer to walk you through the energy economics of hydrogen powered cars and it makes little sense. Trains and trucks might be a possibility, but cars aren’t. Elsewhere, the Japanese motor industry is doubling down on ICE engine efficiency and hybrids.
The Japanese Automobile Manufacturing Association (JAMA) will claim that Japan ranks number three in the world for Electrified Passenger Vehicle adoption (at 36% in 2020) behind Norway (83% and Iceland 58%). That is because they call HVs, PHeVs, EVs and FCVs as “electrified”. Only 0.38% were full electric vehicles.
So Japan’s automotive future is ICE, Hybrid & Hydrogen. Continuing to buy new and second hand Japanese vehicles will tie New Zealand into a terribly delayed transition to EVs.
Now that you’ve considered the above and may be open to the idea of using a transition to RHD to accelerate the electrification of our fleet let’s also think about how such a change could achieve some of the objectives that are close to the hearts of the readers of this blog and why dear readers you should join me in campaigning for this fundamental change and everything that would follow. The change to RHD would accelerate all of the following;
- Our vision zero journey
- Road space reallocation
- Increased investment in public transport
- Accelerated uptake of new generation electric passenger vehicles and electric, hydrogen and gas turbine trucks
- Transfer of road freight to rail and coast shipping
- Investment in regional passenger rail
- Bringing the climate change refuseniks along
- A halt to the current road building mania.
This acceleration would happen because we would need to navigate through three phases of change;
- On H-Day (‘H’ in Sweden stood for Högertrafikomläggningen,or the Right-Hand Traffic Diversion) every road sign, every painted line, every piece of the roading infrastructure needs to be swapped around and in that swap around process that’s when we achieve road space reallocation, speed limit reduction, and hazard treatment. Also in the planning process we would draw on the experience of our current crop of roading engineers keeping them from planning yet another motorway.
- Immediately after H-Day roads will be inherently unsafe until all our brains have been re-wired to think “right-big, left-small” and many people will want to avoid driving. We can help get people out of their cars and reduce that risk by increasing investment in public transport, regional rail and rail freight ahead of H-day so there are fewer vehicles on the road.
- The H-Day transition will not be fully complete until all the LHD vehicles are off our roads. This change will commence once the H-Day date is set and continue for some years after. It will allow those who would otherwise resist buying an electric vehicle to get one because it’s RHD.
The flood of the New Zealand roadscape with cheap second hand Japanese imports since the late 1980s has run its course. It has enabled us all to buy many more of a wider range of safer vehicles than if we had stuck with CKD assembly or ‘only new’ imports. BUT the Japanese manufacturers have locked themselves into an ICE, Hybrid and Hydrogen future which is not where New Zealand should go. We have oodles of cheap renewable electricity which makes EVs the perfect answer.
So, just as we gave up on the hoary old Morris 1100’s, Ford Escorts and Vauxhall Chevettes by cutting the British umbilical in the 1980s, it’s time to shift our source of supply again to look to the right-hand drive world.
Call this the Gretzky plan if you like.