Road to a Greener Future: The Key Startups Reimagining Transportation in New Zealand

Learn about two very different yet equally exciting tech companies paving new roads in New Zealand’s transportation sector.

A wave of new transportation options are hitting the city of Auckland, New Zealand, thanks to a handful of growing startups. (Getty Images)
A wave of new transportation options are hitting the city of Auckland, New Zealand, thanks to a handful of growing startups. (Getty Images)
By Findlay Buchanan
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5 minute read

Many gas-guzzling Kiwis are waiting with bated breath to learn more about the government’s recently proposed “scrap and replace” proposal, which plans to spend $569 million (NZD) to replace “dirty” vehicles with electric ones.

The plan targets New Zealand’s insatiable car ownership rate — one of the highest in the world, with 92% of NZ households owning at least one private vehicle — as well as greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and vehicle waste.

Meanwhile, the local tech industry is sharpening its knives to deliver more efficient, sustainable and safe ways to travel, changing the way Kiwis consume and conduct their daily lives.

Globally, there have been rapid advancements in transportation over the past ten years, including the arrival and more mainstream use of smart technologies, autonomous vehicles and new car sharing apps – including a booming electric vehicle market worth $105 billion (USD) in 2021.

Read on to learn about two very different yet equally exciting tech companies paving new roads in New Zealand’s transportation sector.

Ohmio: shuttles of the future

Self-funded autonomous shuttle company Ohmio is among the most ambitious NZ tech companies paving new ground in transportation and mobility.

Originally spun out from technology transport infrastructure company HMI Technology, Ohmio is a B2B and B2G (business-to-government) company with the goal of facilitating autonomous shuttles across the world.

The Ohmio shuttles are constantly evolving, from the original Ohmio Hop (a four to six seater autonomous shuttle) to the more robust Ohmio Lift which can carry up to 20 passengers and is currently used in airports and universities across the world. Head of research and development Mahmood Hikmet told The Org, “Our earliest iterations of autonomous vehicles were pretty humble, beginning with autonomous golf carts, before the Ohmio Hop shuttles, eventually creating a global footprint of autonomous vehicles.”

But Ohmio doesn’t think of itself as plainly an autonomous shuttle manufacturer, but more of a “network on wheels.”

Hikmet added, “The way it’s designed is that multiple technical parties and companies can come together and collaborate on the same platform. It’s not about simply providing the vehicle and how it works. It’s more, here is the vehicle and the base functionality, but companies are able to add and change things based on the context, or the jurisdiction it is in, so it’s not just [Ohmio] designing and iterating the vehicle.”

Ohmio’s first major partner was the Christchurch Airport, which is set to roll out New Zealand’s first Smart Shuttle — an autonomous, electric vehicle that can carry up to 15 passengers.

Ohmio also recently earned a license to operate on Korean roads. Partnering with LDCC and KOTI (Korea Transport Institute), Ohmio has the rights to manufacture vehicles for Sejong City in Korea, the country’s administrative capital city.

“Making our vehicles road-legal in Korea was no easy task. We planned to put out vehicles in Korea during the pandemic, but COVID-19 hit and we were grounded,” Hikmet said. “With engineers unable to go overseas, we were forced to do it remotely over zoom calls and emails.”

How global cities deploy the autonomous shuttles will vary based on the jurisdiction and the unique transport environment of the country. Hikmet said that Ohmio is less about disrupting the market, and more about facilitating easier forms of mobility to create cleaner, safer transportation methods.

“There’s no one silver bullet that’s going to work for everyone, we want to facilitate a mode shift away from private vehicles, to help as many people as possible to catch the local bus or train, by offering another option that may be convenient if you can’t cycle or walk,” he said.

CityHop: car-sharing subscriptions

Another widely deployed enterprise driving change in New Zealand cities is CityHop. The round-trip car sharing company is a subsidiary of Toyota New Zealand, originally entering the market to provide a convenient and sustainable alternative to private car ownership, with the ambition to improve mobility and meet emissions targets.

CityHop offers all-electric and plug-in hybrid electric, but perhaps its most notable advancement is the recent roll out of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles.

Ben Carter, general manager of CityHop, said it’s only the beginning. The startup continues to provide mobility in many forms, such as cars, car-pooling and multimodal transport.

Carter likens the CityHop service to a Netflix subscription. “People will have access to a range of vehicles, packages and mobility options,” he explained.

The other players

Like many other metropolises across the world, New Zealand’s cities are overflowing with electric scooters.

In New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, four brands dominate the pavement: Beam, Neuron, Flamingo and Lime-owned Jump. In the capital of Wellington, the city council has recently licensed two companies, Flamingo and Beam, which have both rolled out 400 scooters across the city.

From autonomous shuttles to e-scooters, every company has vowed to provide an alternative to private vehicles. But one problem remains: Not all “green tech” matches up to its lofty vision.

Despite the great advancements in transport, our world faces an equally thorny set of challenges, such as widening inequalities, social isolation and pedestrian safety, among others.

Although New Zealand’s future of transport looks innovative, it will be crucial that the technology delivers on its promise to create a safer and greener world of mobility, rather than add to the environmental burden of private car ownership.

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