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New Zealand has an opportunity to transform it's national vehicle fleet from a global laggard in car emissions to become a world leader according to Toyota's Chairman, Mr Bob Field.
Speaking to journalists at the launch of Toyota's third generation petrol/electric hybrid Prius he explained that New Zealand's CO2 emissions increased by over 70 per cent between 1990 and 2006 - the highest increase amongst OECD countries and more than double the global average.
Much of that increase was caused by a disproportionately high level of vehicle ownership and the fact that our vehicle fleet was one of the oldest around the OECD, said Mr Field.
Looking forward, Mr Field said that recovering from the global credit crunch requires a major deleveraging of household debt and if we are to pay our way in the world we can only justify a car ownership density that has some relationship to our national wealth - or GDP per capita.
He suggested simple economics may force New Zealand to reduce car ownership levels by up to 25 per cent to around 450 cars per thousand people.
In the short term New Zealand has the promising outlook of having a smaller and greener car fleet by simply scrapping the nation's oldest and dirtiest vehicles.
In order to encourage this process in the short term and ensure that the nation's wider climate change goals were met, Mr Field advocated that a vehicle scrappage fund be established. This could encourage, and compensate, owners for scrapping their old and high emission vehicles. He suggested this fund could be made fiscally neutral by applying a higher registration fee on poor fuel efficiency vehicles.
In the longer term Mr Field said that the ultimate low emission vehicle technology is likely to be a plug in hybrid but this would only make sense if the electricity grid sourced its power from a low carbon source.
Mr Field talked about New Zealand having a high degree of renewable electricity generation with ongoing potential from hydro and wind.
"Plugging cars into the New Zealand electricity grid (overnight at cheaper rates) provides a unique opportunity to achieve an international best practice mobility model in the medium to long term."
Mr Field said there were other ways New Zealanders could help; by adopting smarter driving practices and vehicle use, choosing fuel efficient cars, moving more people and freight off road onto rail and improving public transport.
Another big opportunity was the more widespread use of cyber highways instead of concrete highways for shopping, working from home, education and entertainment.