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, they provided 83% of new cars. Fords came from Canada and brands like Chevrolet 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, 42 Aston Martins, 32 Ferraris, 21 Maseratis and 7 Lamborghinis were registered for the first time. 

From the 1920s preferential duties and then import licensing favoured British cars. Initially, the most popular was the Austin 7. Much smaller than the Model T, it 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, with Australian-sourced brands by then accounting for another third.

In the 1980s Japanese models rapidly gained popularity, and in the 1990s there was growing importation of second-hand Japanese cars. Access to well-priced late-model cars increased the country’s already high level of car ownership.

Merivale tractors 

New Zealanders generally prefer large cars suited to long-distance travel and recreation. In the 2000s this preference 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 challenging terrain 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 were taken into account, an even higher proportion of cars first registered in the mid-2000s came 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 in 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 thieves. In 2004–8 these included powerful Japanese vehicles such as the Nissan Silvia and 200SX, Subaru Impreza and Legacy, and 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 with engines of less than 1.4 litres (1,400 cc).

Only about 8% of cars registered in 2007 were diesel-powered, compared to 40% in the UK. Relatively few diesel vehicle options were available in New Zealand, but this situation was changing.

How to cite this page:

Eric Pawson, 'Cars and the motor industry - Sources of cars', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 June 2024)

Story by Eric Pawson, published 11 Mar 2010, updated 1 Dec 2014