Motor vehicles

This section provides the latest statistics on vehicle numbers and the average age of vehicles in New Zealand.

Motor vehicles produce air pollution, including particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and other gases. These air pollutants can have adverse health effects, including cardiovascular (heart) and respiratory (lung) diseases.

Diesel vehicles, older cars and cars not well maintained tend to produce more emissions.  Recent evidence also shows that diesel engine fumes can cause lung cancer [1].

On this page

More vehicles on our roads
Vehicle emissions have dropped
New Zealanders have a high car ownership rate
The vehicle fleet is getting increasingly older

More vehicles on our roads

The number of vehicles on the road has increased over time, to 3.86 million vehicles in 2015 [2]. About 78 percent of these vehicles (3.02 million) were light passenger vehicles (such as cars and light vans). Together with light commercial vehicles (507,000 vehicles, 13 percent of the fleet), light vehicles make up over 90 percent of the total vehicle fleet in New Zealand (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Diesel vehicles make up about 17 percent of all light vehicles in 2015, and almost 100 percent of trucks and buses. Diesel vehicles produce more particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide than petrol vehicles, but less carbon monoxide [3]. 

Vehicle emissions have dropped

From 2001 to 2012, estimated emissions from on-road vehicles decreased for all key pollutants [4]. Since 2001, emissions had dropped:

  • 39 percent for carbon monoxide
  • 36 percent for nitrogen oxides
  • 25 percent for PM10
  • 26 percent for PM2.5
  • 49 percent for volatile organic compounds.

This is despite an 11 percent increase in vehicle use over this time. These emission reductions are due to improvements in fuel quality and in our vehicle fleet.

New Zealanders have a high car ownership rate

In 2015, New Zealand had 767 light vehicles per 1000 people (Figure 2). This rate represents one of the highest levels of ownership in the world [2].

Ownership rates varied across the country and the three regions with the highest ownership rates were all in the South Island: Nelson-Marlborough, Canterbury and Southland.

Figure 2

The vehicle fleet is getting increasingly older

In New Zealand, light passenger vehicles were 14.3 years old on average, and light commercial vehicles 13.1 years old, in 2015 (Figure 3).

The New Zealand light vehicle fleet is older than that of Australia and other countries with similar motorisation patterns. In 2015, Australia's light vehicle fleet (10.1 years) was more than 4 years younger than New Zealand's (14.2 years) [2].

Older cars tend to release more harmful vehicle emissions [5].

Figure 3

The New Zealand vehicle fleet has grown increasingly older over the past 15 years. In 2000, 25 percent of the light fleet was 15 or more years old, but by 2015 this had increased to 41 percent, down from a peak of 42 percent in 2013 (Figure 4).

Figure 4

Information about the data

Vehicle numbers and average age

Source: Ministry of Transport – The New Zealand Vehicle Fleet Annual Statistics
Definition: Number and average age (years) of vehicles in the New Zealand vehicle fleet.  Five categories of vehicles are used:

  • light passenger vehicles (passenger cars and vans)
  • light commercial vehicles (the following if under 3500 kg: goods vans, trucks, utilities, buses and motor caravans)
  • trucks (the following if over 3500 kg: goods vans, trucks, utilities and motor caravans)
  • buses (those over 3500 kg)
  • motorcycles (including mopeds).

Vehicle emissions

Source: Ministry for the Environment – 2014 Air Domain Report
Definition: Estimated tonnes of emissions from on-road vehicles, including from vehicle exhaust and brake and tyre wear. Emissions included carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, PM10, PM2.5, and volatile organic compounds.

Pollutant emissions were estimated using modelling, based on the types of vehicles on the road, and distances and speeds they travel.


1. Benbrahim-Tallaa L, Baan RA, Grosse Y, Lauby-Secretan B, El Ghissassi F, Bouvard V, et al. 2012. Carcinogenicity of diesel-engine and gasoline-engine exhausts and some nitroarenes. The Lancet Oncology 13(7): 663-664. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(12)70280-2

2. Ministry of Transport. 2016. The New Zealand Vehicle Fleet 2015: Annual fleet statistics 2015. Wellington: Ministry of Transport. Available online:

3. Kuschel G, Bluett J, Unwin M. 2012. Trends in Light Duty Vehicle Emissions 2003 to 2011: Auckland Council technical report TR2012/032. Prepared by NIWA and Emission Impossible Ltd for Auckland Council.

4. Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand. 2014. New Zealand's Environmental Reporting Series: 2014 Air domain report. Wellington: Ministry for the Environment.

5. Ministry of Transport. 2011. Aging of the light vehicle fleet. Wellington: Ministry of Transport.