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Much ado about not much

 

If you believed most of everything written and said about Australia’s proposed 2025 New Vehicle Efficiency Standard (NVES), you could be forgiven for thinking that it was designed to eliminate 4WD wagons and utes. It’s not, because no government is that stupid.

 

2025 Ford Ranger plug-in-hybrid (PHEV)

 

The NVES was developed to drag Australia, kicking and screaming, into the modern world. Along with pariah state, Russia, we’re the only developed country in the world not to have an NVES. The Yanks have been progressively improving fuel consumption across the entire vehicle fleet since the late-1970s and Europe has been doing it since the early 1990s. China leads the world in the adoption of electric and hybrid-electric vehicles.

However, Australia is a tiny automotive market at the end of the earth and no major vehicle maker builds vehicles specifically for us. Our Outback Travel Australia website visitors known only too well the degree of modification and adaptation necessary to make imported vehicles suitable for bush travel Down Under.

Since the 1980s, the most popular vehicles for outback travel have been body-on-frame utes and wagons. There used to be a mix of petrol and diesel power among different makes, but, since the late 1990s, nearly all are diesel.

When the 2025 NVES was proposed, last year, it set emissions targets of 141 grams of CO2 per kilometre for passenger vehicles and 199g/km for light commercial vehicles, including 4WD utes. These targets were to be lowered to 58g/km and 81g/km, respectively, by 2029.

After representations by many interested parties, including the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), these targets were greatly weakened by the Government. However, many 4WD importers, who sell a balanced lineup of high- and low-emitting vehicles were happy with the original NVES daft.

Further softening the legislation was an FCAI-inspired request to broaden the definition of ‘light commercial’. As a result, many 4WD body-on-frame wagons were reclassified as ‘light commercial vehicles’.

If passed through both houses in Canberra, these definition changes mean that any body-on-frame wagon that has a towing capacity of three tonnes will now be considered under the NVES as a ute. The majority of SUVs will remain classed as passenger vehicles.

Under the revised NVES that was presented to Parliament in late-March 2024, the 2025 emissions target for light commercial vehicles is 210g/km of CO2, shrinking to 110g/km by 2029. Most four-cylinder diesel utes and wagons have claimed CO2 emission levels below the starting 210g/km, but those claims need to be analysed against the fact that many major vehicle makers – Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volkswagen included – have been found guilty of lying about their real-word emissions.

The government’s original NVES was expected to eliminate 369 million tonnes of CO2 by 2050, but the watered-down standard will cut a claimed 321m tonnes by 2050.

What we don’t know is whether the Labor Government will extend the FBT tax breaks that currently apply to crew-cab utes, to now similarly-classified 4WD body-on-frame wagons.

So, what’s the short-term wash-up for your next 4WD purchase? Nothing! If you want a new diesel ute or wagon, it’ll be business as usual during 2025. 

However, we can expect to see some lower-emitting powertrain packages released very soon. Toyota has already flagged mild-hybrid HiLux and Prado models and Ford has said it’s introducing a petrol/electric full-hybrid PHEV Ranger in early 2025.

Chinese 4WD makers already have a brace of petrol hybrids that they’re ready to introduce and this presence will hopefully stop the traditional market leaders from price-gouging with their hybrids.

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