2020 vehicle sales dive in a pandemic-undermined year, wrecked by tourism and supply issues. Worse, they ended on a weakening trend

2020 vehicle sales dive in a pandemic-undermined year, wrecked by tourism and supply issues. Worse, they ended on a weakening trend

The number of new cars sold in 2020 was its lowest since 2013, with sales undermined by the pandemic shutdowns.

And when factories came back online, supply was an issue, crimping recovery sales.

Barely 80,000 new cars were sold in 2020. And apart from those obvious reasons, sales into rental fleets dived to record low levels as our inbound tourism industry ground to a halt.

The drop is -22% lower than for 2019, which itself was -3.6% lower than the record high set in 2018.

There has been no move into new energy vehicles in 2020. Only 1520 cars sold in the year were electric or hybrids, or less than 2% of the diminished total.

December car sales weren't great either to finish the year, being -33% below the same month in 2019. Only March and April had larger year-on-year declines in 2020.

Commercial vehicle sales didn't fair much better. In 2020 they were -24% lower than in 2019, and in December alone they were -8% below the year-ago level.

This article was prepared using raw NZTA data. It will be updated when the cleaned final data is available from MIA.

New vehicles sold

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Source: NZTA
The ' Passenger vehicle sales' chart will be drawn here.
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The 'Used car imports' chart will be drawn here.
Source: NZTA
The ' Used car imports - Annual' chart will be drawn here.
Source: NZTA

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Huh. Seems hard to square with the apparently insatiable demand for both houses and spa pools.

There's little economic rationale in buying a new motor vehicle.

Much wiser to save money and purchase property.


I'm with you on that TTP about modern cars. Why buy a new one at two year intervals.
I have had current RAV4 near eight years (170K now. Warranty 175K). Original plan was to keep it about 12 years (say 250K) but now thinking maybe longer.
Why change it now.
But when I do I will probably go for the same size and features etc, and it will be much clearer which power source to go for.
Probably electric, and they will be better then anyway. We shall see.

That photo is a graphic demonstration of the momentum generated by utes and big suvs.
Downright dangerous to other road users.
They have their own dangers of course with their propensity to roll. And the ones with ladder chassis when they stop suddenly when they hit a tree or a truck.

Yeah.. I sure wouldn't want to be t-boned by my Pathfinder (it weighs 3 tonne). You do however get much more respect in a large vehicle due to it's size and visibility. No more cut-offs, red light jumpers or jaywalkers !!

Do drivers of these cars purhcase them due to smaller size in their physical attributes?

I wouldn't know frazz. I bought mine to cart my two mastiffs around and for it's towing capacity

Was in Whiritoa over Xmas and noticed the brand new utes parked everywhere. Towing nothing but flat whites and all sparkling clean with impressive mags. Also noticed kiwis waistlines are getting larger each year - so Utes and SUVs now needed I guess to move the large families from door to door.

Being 6ft 6, it's a relief now that car manufacturers actually make vehicles that people taller than 5ft 5 can comfortably ride in.

My son is fast heading for about that height, we stopped measuring once he passed 6ft shortly after turning 13. We were going to buy a ute for towing duties (being rural we tow Heavy Things) but had to resort to an Audi Q7 because it's the only vehicle we could find with enough rear leg and head room for him while not feeling agricultural and still being able to comfortably tow over 3,000kg. We just have to suck up the maintenance costs.

ETA: frazz will be happy to hear it's permanently filthy.

Noted - finally some mud that sticks!

Even in my ute, I'm still sitting too high and have to slightly hunch to see out properly.

You must have a lot of accessories or something because the heaviest Pathfinder (pre 2010 ladder chassis model), is only 2180kg! And the newer model is less than 2 ton.

I agree though, driving a larger vehicle is nice for a lot of reasons.

Yeah you're right. I got mixed up with the tow rating. Still a heavy vehicle though @ 2T

Oh, is that what it takes to get respect? Perhaps we should all have one. Make it the only sort of vehicle allowed on the roads?

The drivers are the danger, not the vehicle. On our defensive driving course, the 4x4 Navara stopped in less distance than a Toyota corolla. Also, our roads are 3rd world.

Our roads are fine, people just need to drive to the conditions.

The average k1w1 driver is more 3rd world than our roads are.

Lol our roads are fine

Certainly dramatically better than the roads in Laos - I spent a while there last year and they made the East of Christchurch just after the Earthquakes look lovely and flat.

Maybe you don't actually mean 3rd world?

Well compared to what I've seen in the US and Australia, they're atrocious. Not quite Vanuatu or Fiji, but depends where you go e.g. SH3 New Plymouth

TK to NP is a fine road, with the exception of Mt Messenger bit which is twisty. Just have to know how to drive and accept it isn't a new expressway or motorway. Any road you can average 100K's/hr over 4 1/2 hrs is fine.

I've not driven that end, only the NP to Whanganui. https://www.stuff.co.nz/taranaki-daily-news/news/300136146/transport-ope...

I drove Hawkes Bay-NP and back a few weeks ago, including Whanganui-NP, and I didn't notice any serious issues with the road. I guess it depends on what conditions one is used to, I don't do a lot of city driving these days.

Yep, drove back up there on boxing day, apart from the superstars that drive super slow as soon as there is a bend in the road and then hit 110 as soon as there is a straight stretch the road was perfectly fine.

Did that home today. Would not in anyway shape or form describe it as a good road. Hamilton to Te Awamutu is great. After that...

Once you avoided the potholes, landslides, roadworks, trucks travelling at <80, suicidal maniacs coming at you on the wrong side of the road (Possibly due to their being only two small passing lanes from PioPio to Bell Block, and the afore mentioned trucks. Then you factor in the well over 100 road signs that specify a safe speed of anywhere from 35-75ks in a 100km open road (Yes I understand it is a limit, not a target). It was a leisurely drive in wet conditions on a road that is marked 1000km but reality is if you went about about 80 you were taking your life in your hands. State Highway 3. lol. It would be lucky to be a B road in Europe.

NP to Hawera is just one big pothole.

Taranaki roads are renowned for being $^&#.
Those are the most recent exampe. Google back through the years and you will find a common theme.

Sure, depends where you go. As a small country, roads that only service small communities are not likely to be highways. Driving around the South Island, I think they're generally pretty good.

I'm sure most people are happy for you to pay higher taxes for 'bigger and better roads' to save x minutes on your journey ydab. Feel free to volunteer at any stage you like.

But with the pot of money we've got we're already spending way too much on them now.

I wasn't talking minutes lost, I was talking lives lost. Higher taxes don't mean much if they're wasted. Volunteer? We get higher taxes whether we like it or not.

Next time you're out and about have a look at where the majority of crosses are on our state highways. Mostly at the end of a straight, a passing lane or the apex of a medium sharp bend. Reason?? idiot drivers - not the road

You're preaching to the converted. A combination of old cars, poor behaviour and neglected infrastructure result in unsafe driving conditions. My issue with roading is that it's a part of the wider issue in NZ of infrastructure expenditure not matching the demands of our population growth.

ah ok, fair call.

I'll fix that for you in the stroke of a pen if you like.

The speed limit is now 80kmh instead of 100kmh.

You're welcome. ;)

Just like smokefree 2025, well done good sir!

Last time the speed limit was 80kph (50mph) the road toll was higher.. epic fail!!

Vehicle safety standards have improved out of sight since about 1996 so you cannot compare the now with then. If speed limits dropped to 80km/hr now then the road toll would also fall from what it is at 100km/hr. Basically our roads are S*@t however so if the roads were improved with dual carriageways and better seal surface the road toll would again fall further.

Agree entirely about our roads which are of a generally poor standard for a developed country. Chip-seal roads everywhere and many roads become corrugated quickly. Doesn't matter how good a car you buy, drive on these crap roads and it's noisy and can be bumpy. One thing I like about Auckland is that most roads are decent. Down here in Napier and throughout Hawkes Bay, most road surfaces really are crap. (Of course, traffic is the complete opposite but that's another story!)

Yep, I follow a couple of YouTube channels and they are often flipped even at low speed. The issue seems to be regulation, for cars there are set standards for max/min bumper height to prevent over/under riding and ensure crumple zones work as anticipated. However it seems many Utes, offroad vehicles and SUVs are not regulated. Combine that with a high centre of gravity and they seem to love to roll over in accidents.

Another factor people do not realize is that when full of people and luggage, tall vehicles are even more top heavy.

There aren't many incentives for people to buy EVs or Hybrids, it would seem the 'climate emergency' isn't urgent enough for government to consider a discounted rate of road tax for low emissions vehicles. Even the new police vehicles are petrol 4x4 Skodas noting that a hybrid vehicle made no economic sense.

There aren't enough viable alternatives yet. You either buy a 150k tesla or a clown car leaf. If there was a mid sized car that was electric, had 500km range and didn't cost 100k, there would be far more uptake

Tesla model 3 SR+ is 75k in NZ, mid-sized, 490km range. Pretty much exactly what you were asking for?

Your point largely still stands though: too expensive for significant penetration, especially in the absence of used models being available.

That does look pretty good actually. Although 75k is a lot for most people in NZ unless you biff it on the mortgage. Still no viable ute and van EVs for commercial purposes though which is an issue

Utes and vans are harder because you really need a good aero profile in order to have a decent range. It's coming, though. I reckon EVs will be extremely appealing as new options within 5 years, but it's going to take a lot longer to turn over the fleet.

Yea I think there's a big disconnect in terms of what policy makers want now and what current technology can actually deliver.

In the UK, 2020 vehicle sales saw electric vehicles rise to 6.5% of the market, up from 1.5% in 2019. In December 2020, the best selling vehicle in the UK was the Tesla Model 3. It sold 5,798 with the ICE Golf at #2 with 4,470. The electric VW ID.3 was #4 with 3,188. The current new price of the Tesla Model 3 pretty much negates the future fuel cost savings over a non electric car, but it is a very viable driving alternative to an internal combustion engine car of the same type. I know because we have made the switch. In 3 months, we have travelled 9,000km at a fuel cost of 6c per km (mix of home and public chargers). Electric is not the only answer to future transport and will actually have unintended consequences e.g. when the cost goes down, the use goes up. In real world home charged use, the cost per km is 2.25c. We think nothing of going on a 200km round trip as it costs the same as a cup of coffee.

I would be happy with a clown car Leaf if I could get it retrofitted with more modern cells. There is a local project with an EV specialist underway but no updates for a little while. Hope we hear something soon.

We had a 2013 Leaf for a little over 2 years and it was brilliant for the daily commute, not to mention paying for itself in fuel cost savings over that time - once we'd sold it we ended up making a little money overall. In the end it was undone by a lack of range for rural use and our son outgrowing the back seat.

For 2+ car households where at least one vehicle is used solely for round-town trips they're an excellent choice. Even single car households that spend 95% of their time in urban environments it's manageable if they're willing to hire a vehicle for the few long-distance trips each year.

If MG bring the MG5 EV to NZ that becomes a really good 50k option. https://ev-database.org/car/1313/MG-MG5-EV
The MG ZS EV isn' bad on price. Once the Chinese makers (e.g. https://www.nio.com/es6) start building right hand drive there should be an influx of good cheap EV's.

EVs are still exempt from RUC. Not much, but it is a "discounted rate of road tax for low emissions vehicles".

Once they get good sales penetrations the govt will absolutly have ruc on electric cars, otherwise it to big a tax loss. Keys promised to dump ruc on sub 2 ton diesel cars when he was first elected. Never happened.

Buy 3 cars and turn it into a 3br house.


The cracks are starting to show. Car sales down, prices to follow. And if business doesn’t pick up, then unemployment will increase. And so on, and so forth.

Our local Nissan dealer has been selling cars hand over fist, but I think you may be right.

Brought a 30X Leaf last year and just completed a North Island road tour - fantastic and would never go back to a ICE

This is probably the road I'll go down Frazz, did you import or buy locally?

Autolink Newmarket - fantastic and no pressure and free delivery down the Island

I wouldn't mind an EV if there was one I could afford and one that would suit my lifestyle. Maybe in 5 years time tech will be there.

$15K will get you one - and remember it starts to pay itself off from day 1

do RUCs come in this year for EVs?

also, I need a ute or something that can tow

Makes sense. Every spare cent must be ploughed into ever greater mortgages.

Noticed used car sales seem to be pretty slow aswell. Seen cars on trademe sitting there alot longer than usual, lower to mid price bracket too.

Everything seems slow at the moment apart from house sales.

Supply is still very much the problem.
I have 2 friends looking to buy new utes and they are being told by all the main brands that if they order today they likely won’t get their new ute until April or May.

Exactly what I was told as I snaffled the last one in the dealers yard early November. DC Ute's are the tradie, fishing and towing fraternity go-to for obvious reasons, and it will be quite some time before hybrid or pure EV substitution can happen. One kicker: wading depth.....

From what I could gather supply is the major issue. One popular vehicle was a 6-7 month wait and I saw a 1yr old one with 10k km on the clock sell for 5k above the new price. Another vehicle, "hopefully" a 2-3 month wait and dealer could only give a non binding price. Both demos already pre sold for when they became available. I treat anything said by a car dealer similarly to a real estate agent but consistent message was that supply disruptions have meant they can't get enough to sell.

Vehicle sales are always an early indicator of near future economic trends.

Remarkable more people aren't seeing the value of EV/NEV's.

Brand new Camry is 36k, or 42k hybrid.

By my numbers that will have offset itself by 100k, and if sold before that the difference is usually the same 6k.

Outlander PHEV is cheaper than a Ranger, and a very nice 4wd which can be extremely cheap to run for commuters.

Tesla 3, 76k etc etc.

We're thinking a new car in next 1-2 years, and depreciation risk makes us nervous to buy anything but NEV

The only factor not mentioned here is Migration - which could have a true effect on car sales. what's the things a migrant usually doesnt bring with them when they move countries (a car and a house). Even a number of temporary migrants and students will own a car whilst here and then sell off before leaving. with migration completely grinding to a halt - this would mean 15000-20000 less car sales a year minimum.

Good point.
When people analyse things/ publish things in most cases there will be significant factors which have not been thought about.

Are vehicles an asset class? Nope. That's all you need to know

Classic cars are doing very nicely. People have cash from the overseas holiday budget. Buy the right car at the right time in its depreciation cycle and you can do very well. Look at old porsche 964s. Used to be 25k, now starting around 100k. More for the special models.

Same goes for HQ holdens, Valiant chargers etc

'70s to early '00s Japanese performance vehicles are booming too. What was $15-$20K a couple of years ago is now $30-$100K depending on what you're after. You won't find a cheap Skyline GTR or Supra RZ no matter how bad the condition, while things like late-model RX7s, S2000s and early Honda Type Rs are taking off too.

Then there's things like Ford Cosworths, Audi Quattros, BMW M3s...

Supras and r34s have always been sought after in NZ and becoming rarer by the day. I've recently seen tidy s13 silvias fetch 30k, when I was at school, a mate's brother bought a tidy s13 for 15k

A friend bought an R32 GTR about 3 years ago for under $20K, and it wasn't a complete dog either.

If the classic definition of a Capital Asset - goods that can be used to produce other goods on a non- or slowly-consumable basis - is to be followed, then many types of Vehicle are, indeed, Assets. Examples:

  • Utes - construction, repair and housing trades
  • Trucks, essential for getting FMCG to the retail outlets, produce farm to market, online orders to the buyer, concrete to the foundations

I could extend this list, but it's enough to demolish the glib generalisation that 'vehicles aren't Assets'.....

Ah yes, the wealth effect doing its thing. Right, Mr Orr?

Just love the fact kids can get changed almost standing up in the back passenger space inside the car before skiing/swimming.

Having Already Dropped for Years, US Auto Sales Plunged to 1970s Level in 2020

Improvement in car sales will come once the dealers give worthwhile warranties and after-sales service: most dealerships still don't even give a five year warranty for new cars. The warranty for new cars should be ten years or 50,000 kms, whichever comes first.

I'll keep the 5 yr warranty thanks. 50,000km is 2 years driving or less in our house.

Unfortunately EV's are as boring as hell. Until they get serious and make a decent sports car that doesn't cost as much as a 911 Turbo, its petrol all the way for me.

So you can drive the legal speed limit along with everyone else?