$20m in government funding for 18 electric buses goes to offshore company

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A Canterbury bus builder is disappointed that government funding for a new public transport fleet has gone overseas.

The New Zealand Green Investment Fund is providing $20 million to British fleet and battery storage specialist Zenobē for the production of 18 electric buses.
Photo: Zenobē

The New Zealand Green Investment Fund (NZGIF) is providing $20 million to British fleet and battery storage specialist Zenobē for the production of 18 electric buses.

The buses are being supplied to local operator Go Bus Transport Limited for its Christchurch fleet following an announcement in April.

But Global Bus Ventures managing director Tim Duncan said government funding for imported products was puzzling.

“We really push to build local and we love supporting local industry,” Duncan said.

“There is a huge economic and environmental benefit to building locally and it is disappointing to see an imported product that is much heavier.”

Duncan said he believed the company’s buses were around two to three tonnes lighter and therefore did not require a heavy vehicle licence.

The Rolleston Company is the only manufacturer in the country to build buses from the ground up, including the country’s first zero-emission hydrogen bus.

Selwyn National Party MP Nicola Grigg slammed the decision to outsource production overseas, saying Global Bus Ventures had been overlooked.

“I think there’s a moral obligation here and I think most New Zealanders would agree that if we’re going to spend tens of millions of dollars on low-emission buses, we should spend them for businesses based in New Zealand,” she says.

Questions remain about the long-term costs of offshore bus production, Grigg said.

Canterbury Regional Council said operators were required to assess whether new vehicles met quality standards.

“[They] are required to provide us with assurances that this is the case,” a council spokesperson said.

“As part of this, we are revising the specifications for new vehicle types for the entire fleet.”

The Bus and Coaches Association felt that the production of low-emission buses going overseas made sense.

Managing Director Ben McFadgen said Go Bus leasing its assets to Zenobē minimized risk.

“Something like this arrangement allows operators to invest in electric vehicle assets without having to invest huge sums of money,” McFadgen said.

“We are still at the beginning of this technology and there is still a long way to go for its development.”

A balanced approach was needed and local manufacturers still need to be considered, he said.

The NZGIF is a green investment bank set up by the government to “facilitate and accelerate investments that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand”.

The main shareholders of the fund are Climate Change Minister James Shaw and Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

NZGIF chief executive Craig Weise said the arrangement with Zenobē reduced one of the “major barriers to transition and upfront costs”.

“NZGIF makes investments that help reduce New Zealand’s carbon emissions because that’s our mission,” Weise said.

“The decision on service solution providers is a business decision for the counterparties, in this case Go Bus, which selected Zenobē as its operating partner through its own processes.

“It is not appropriate for NZGIF to comment on Go Bus’ commercial agreement with Zenobē.”

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