Motor vehicles

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

The use of motor vehicles can impact human health through air pollution, crashes and accidents, climate change as well as through noise. In particular, motor vehicle emissions produced through the combustion of petrol and diesel affect outdoor air quality and human health.

Diesel-powered vehicles and vehicles which are older or poorly maintained tend to produce more emissions. Recent evidence also shows that diesel engine fumes can cause lung cancer [1].

More vehicles on our roads

There were almost 4.3 million motor vehicles in New Zealand in 2018—the highest ever number [2]. In 2018, light passenger vehicles were the most common type of vehicle (3.3 million vehicles, 77% of the fleet), followed by light commercial vehicles (622,000 vehicles, 14% of the fleet) (Figure 1). Together, light vehicles made up over 91% of the total vehicle fleet.

Figure 1: Number of motor vehicles, by vehicle type, 2000-2018

The number of diesel vehicles has increased steadily since 2000, particularly within the light commercial vehicle fleet. In 2018, 75% of light commercial vehicles and 9% of light passenger vehicles were diesel-powered, combined, this represents about 20% of the total light vehicle fleet. The truck and bus fleet almost entirely consists of diesel vehicles (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Percentage of diesel and petrol vehicles, by vehicle type, 2018

New Zealanders have a high car ownership rate

Between 2001 and 2018, the number of light vehicles per 1,000 people increased from 661 to 802. This rate represents one of the highest levels of car ownership in the world [2].

Light vehicle ownership rates varied across the country (Figure 3). The region with the highest ownership rate was Nelson-Marlborough (1,027 light vehicles per 1,000 people) and the region with the lowest light vehicle ownership rates was Wellington (676 light vehicles per 1,000 people).

Figure 3: Light vehicle ownership, by region, in 2018 (vehicles per 1,000 people)

Electric vehicle fleet growing rapidly

The electric vehicle (EV) fleet in New Zealand is mainly made up of light vehicles. In 2019, there were over 18,500 EVs, up from only 161 in 2013 (Figure 4). Over 75% of the light electric vehicle fleet is made up of pure EVs; the rest of the fleet consists of plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Figure 4: Number of light EVs, 2013-2019 

Light EVs are increasingly becoming a larger percentage of light vehicle registrations (Figure 5). In December 2019, light EVs accounted for 2.1% of all light vehicle registrations, compared to 0.03% in January 2014. However, the light vehicle fleet is still dominated by fossil fuels.

Figure 5: Percentage of light vehicle registrations that are EVs, January 2014 - December 2019

In 2019, there were 3.8 light electric vehicles per 1,000 people in New Zealand (Figure 6). Auckland and Wellington regions were the areas with the largest ownership rate (4.8 light electric vehicles per 1,000 people in both regions) whereas the West Coast region had the lowest ownership rate (0.8 light electric vehicles per 1,000 population).

Figure 6: Light electric vehicle ownership, by region, in 2018 (vehicles per 1,000 people)

The vehicle fleet is getting increasingly older

Between 2000 and 2018, the average age of light passenger vehicles, motorcycles and trucks increased (Figure 7). In 2018, trucks had the oldest average age (17.8 years), followed by motorcycles (17.0 years), buses (15.9 years), light passenger vehicles (14.4 years), and light commercial vehicles (12.3 years).

Figure 7: Average age of vehicle fleet, by type, 2000-2018

In 2000 almost 25% of the light vehicle fleet was 15 years or older, in 2018 it was 36% (Figure 8). One in five cars of the light vehicle fleet was older than 20 years in 2018.

Figure 8: Age structure of the light vehicle fleet, 2000-2018

New Zealand's light vehicle fleet is old by international standards

The New Zealand light vehicle fleet is older than the fleet in the United States, Australia, and Canada. In 2018, the New Zealand light vehicle fleet was more than four years older on average (14.1 years) than Canada’s vehicle fleet (9.7 years). Increasing average ages across the light vehicle fleet may be due to improvements in mechanical reliability, allowing vehicles to be kept in running order more easily and thus stay on the road longer (Ministry of Transport 2019).


Information about the data

Vehicle numbers and average age

Source: Ministry of Transport – The New Zealand Vehicle Fleet Annual Statistics and Monthly electric and hybrid light vehicle registrations/tables
Definition: Number and average age (years) of vehicles in the New Zealand vehicle fleet. Six categories of vehicles are used:

  • light passenger vehicles (passenger cars and vans)
  • light commercial vehicles (which includes the following if under 3500 kg: goods vans, trucks, utilities, buses and motor caravans)
  • trucks (including the following if over 3500 kg: goods vans, trucks, utilities and motor caravans)
  • buses (only those over 3500 kg, with lighter examples classed as 'light commercial vehicles')
  • motorcycles (including mopeds)
  • electric vehicles (including pure electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles).


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. 2019. Vehicle Fleet Statistics 2018. 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.

Downloads Useful links Back to Top