Story: Cars and the motor industry

Page 2. Sources of cars

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Countries of origin

During the 1920s brands from North America were the most popular vehicles – from 1925 to 1929, 83% of new cars came from there. Fords came from Canada, and brands like Chevrolet were from the US. Ford’s popularity was based on the Model T, which was sold until 1927.

Scarce supercars 

There are few high-performance sports cars in the New Zealand. In 2007 only 42 Aston Martins, 32 Ferraris, 7 Lamborghinis and 21 Maseratis were registered for the first time. 

From the 1920s preferential duties and then import licensing favoured British cars. Initially, the most popular British car was the Austin 7. It was considerably smaller than the Model T, and was the first mass-produced car to have what became the conventional control layout of pedals, gearstick and handbrake. It sold from 1922 to 1939. In the late 1960s British cars still comprised more than half of all new cars, although Australian-sourced brands by then accounted for another third.

In the 1980s Japanese models rose rapidly in popularity, and this increased in the 1990s with the growing importation of second-hand Japanese cars. This gave New Zealanders access to well-priced late model cars, further increasing the country’s high level of car ownership.

Merivale tractors 

New Zealanders generally prefer large cars suited to long-distance travel and recreation. In the 2000s this was reflected in the large numbers of big- engine four-wheel-drive models, known as SUVs (sports utility vehicles), 4WDs (four- wheel drives) or, jokingly, as Merivale or Remuera tractors – because most see no more active service than the school run. 

Favourite cars

Between 2005 and 2007 the five most popular new cars in New Zealand were the Holden Commodore, Toyota Corolla, Ford Falcon, Mazda 6 and Toyota Camry. Both Holdens and Fords originate in Australia, yet only 7.5% of new car sales were Australian models – 70% were Japanese. When second-hand imports are taken into account, an even higher proportion of cars first registered in the mid-2000s are from Japan.

The national car fleet

Since the 1950s New Zealand has had an ageing car fleet. Wartime conditions and controls on outflows of foreign exchange restricted access to new vehicles built overseas. Restrictions on importing cars began to ease from the 1970s, and from the 1990s imports of second-hand cars exploded.

Thief candy 

One measure of the desirability of cars is which models are most frequently targeted by car thieves. In 2004–8 these included powerful Japanese vehicles such as the Nissan Silvia and 200SX, Subaru Impreza and Legacy, as well as the German BMW 325 coupe. 

In 2007 the average age of cars was around 12 years. Models with medium to large engines predominated. In 2002–7, the most popular engine size was 1,801–2,000 cc, and more cars with engines of 3 litres (3,000 cc) or more in capacity were registered than those of less than 1.4 litres (1,400 cc).

Diesel cars have been relatively slow to catch on in New Zealand. Only about 8% of cars registered in 2007 were diesel-powered. In the UK, by comparison, the figure was 40%. This has been due to a lack of available diesel vehicle options in New Zealand, but this was changing by 2008.

How to cite this page:

Eric Pawson, 'Cars and the motor industry - Sources of cars', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/cars-and-the-motor-industry/page-2 (accessed 23 September 2019)

Story by Eric Pawson, published 11 Mar 2010, updated 15 Dec 2014