Suzuki Swift case study: the true cost of New Zealand's Clean Car Standard

David Linklater
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Swift is a truly thrifty small car, but it still gets hit hard by Clean Car rules.

Swift is a truly thrifty small car, but it still gets hit hard by Clean Car rules.

The Clean Car Discount (CCD), which apportioned rebates or fees to car buyers depending on vehicle emissions, is no more. But the Clean Car Standard (CCS), which awards car importers and distributors credits for low emissions vehicles underneath a certain, well, standard, and hefty fees for those over, is still with us.

Suzuki Swift.
Clean Car legislation has been a 'rollercoaster', says Suzuki NZ management.

While new Transport Minister Simeon Brown is reportedly undertaking a review of CCS, for the moment the programme instituted by the previous government carries through.

Suzuki New Zealand has been very vocal about the CCS’s perceived failings since 2022. Given it sells some of the most economical vehicles on the market, what’s the issue?

Well, the CCS becomes more stringent every year and it’s more heavily weighted for very light vehicles, under 1200kg – which is most of Suzuki’s range. Taking the Swift GL as an example: it’s one of the most thrifty petrol cars you can buy, but it still tips over the 2024 emissions standard of 113.6g/km by 8g. That’s a $360 fee from the government for every car imported.

In 2025, the target shifts to 92.3g/km and the penalties increase by 50 per cent. That means a whopping $1957 fee for each Swift GL. And so on, with the 2026/27 targets among the toughest in the world. So ultimately, retail prices might have to rise. A lot.

Suzuki Swift.
New Swift will be one of Suzuki NZ's big launches for 2024.

The solution? It’s a game of averages, and it’s clear no maker can avoid big CCS penalties with a focus on ICE vehicles – even tiny, super-thrifty ones. There have to be full hybrids and EVs in the mix to balance out the emissions leger, and Suzuki NZ doesn’t have any of those. Yet. (The Swift, Vitara and S-Cross are available with "mild hybrid" tech, though).

While Suzuki NZ has been clear that it wants to transition slowly to electrified models because it’s a budget brand, it does have EVs on the way for 2025. And of course a new Swift due this year, which will presumably be even more economical than the current car.

Clean Car is a 'rollercoaster'

The Clean Car programme has been a rough ride for Suzuki NZ overall, says the brand's general manager of automobiles Gary Collins: "It is certainly very apparent that government policy has a more significant impact on the market than we expected. Especially emission policies that the public can clearly see such as the Clean Car Discount programme."

Suzuki Ignis.
Clean petrol cars like Ignis lost their rebates after mid-2023 changes to CCD.

When the CCD launched, Suzuki's small passenger cars like Ignis and Swift were eligible for generous rebates - up to $3160, while the likes of the Jimny and Vitara remained neutral. After the CCD was tightened in July 2023, those rebate models moved into the neutral zone but the others copped fees of up to $2000.

"So we were on a bit of a roller coaster flipping between CCD rebates applying across much of our fleet to no rebates and a number of penalties," says Collins.

"So much change in a short period can’t be easy for customers to fully understand.

"We’ve had a period where the programme worked in our favour, and a time when it certainly did not. So there are mixed feelings on the abandonment of the programme.

"But one thing it did cause was a considerable amount of confusion for the motoring public as there was little information provided to the consumer by the government on its function and the timings of when changes would occur. This was largely left up to the industry and media."

While the abolition of CCD might have removed some of that confusion for consumers, the CCS may still have a big impact on new-vehicle prices to come.

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