"with no street lighting"
I don't think you are going to get great night time images without adding IR (either a camera with integrated IR like the Axis Q1765-LE or added external IR). We have tested the Axis Q1604. Good camera for its day but it's no more than 3 years old. Either way, with cars moving fast in the dark, you will need a fast shutter to stop blur, cutting down low light performance even further.
As for the SD card, this is what they are referring to: Axis Camera Companion Version 3 + SanDisk OEM Released. We bought the new cards and have been testing them for the last few weeks, no problems yet but obviously not long enough to make a definitive judgement. That said, the fact that Axis is offering a 3 year warranty on the cards is a bullish sign since they are standing behind and since, hopefully, they have learned from the initial disaster that was Axis edge storage.
If we go with that solution we will be using a housing with IR added, it is a country road fairly narrow and we can mount the camera on the side of a house about 26 meteres from a bend so cars will have to slow or leave the road. The SD card is in some ways what I am more worried about as we will probably have it accessable for Remote viewing through Axis camera companion software which I haven't used before (Axis hardware & software). Shouldn't be a lot of remote viewing but when I have used this method once before with a Boche advantage line camera it didn't like remote viewing via the internet of its SD card when we accessed it frequently.
I was part of the initial Axis edge storage disaster that John referred to above...and it wasn't pretty. However, in all fairness since swapping out SD Cards for the Sandisk Extreme Pro versions and (later) the Axis SD cards (which are actually just these), the results have been far better. I have had a few sites running Axis Camera Companion with SD storage for over a year now with no issues.
To give a few examples: I've had a P7214 4-channel encoder running with this for well over a year now with no issues. So, that's 4 channels of continuous recording + frequent viewing and no problems. In a second scenario, I have been running this on an Axis P3367 (5MP) camera that records at full 5MP resolution and it's aimed right at the ocean, so the waves / ripples cause bandwidth spikes. It's not uncommon for this camera to hit 15+ Mbps during the daytime. No issues there either, including while accessing recordings for remote viewing.
As far as the camera goes, I'm not sure IR will give you the images you're looking for. But, if you do go this route, I would consider the P3364-LVE (not sure they make an equivalent in bullet form). We use a lot of these and they're great in low-light and the built-in IR is good up to about 30 ft away. The other advantage is they will adjust the IR intensity which is useful for objects at varying distances.
The Axis Q1604 might be overkill unless you have a specific need for such a high-end camera. It doesn't have any IR built-in so if you want to see down a dark road you'll be needing to purchase separate IR illuminators. $1200 for the camera and another $1000 for IR, that money might be better spent on a camera with Integrated IR. Check out the Axis Q1765 which has similar specs to Q1604 but also has IR.
For roughly the same amount of money you could also go with a HIKVision xx7286xx Pan-Tilt-Zoom camera with built-in long range Infrared - the IR on these works amazingly well - It will focus narrow or wide depending on how you zoom the camera and it works perfectly 200 feet away.
If you are planning to use License Plate Recognition (LPR), stick with the Axis Q16 or Q17 series, then you can use an Embedded software application like IPConfigure's LPR software and record everything to an SD card.
...as Axis do not produce their own NVR's...
They do have some I think, or maybe you mean they are OEM'ing someone else?
For instance they have the Q-8108-R, a POE NVR for rugged/mobile applications: IP65, battery shutdown on power fail, meant to withstand temp variance. Only works with Axis cameras.
Thanks for the comments guys as a slight deviation from the original question how do you find using the Axis Camera Companion VMS was having a chat with a supplier yesterday who felt it was not a proper VMS. Haven't used it myself more familar with the Hikvision option
Exacq Edge VMS is great if you don't mind babysitting it constantly. Buggy as hell, requires a camera power cycle at least once a week. It's a shame Exacq doesn't devote more development time to Exacq Edge - it has a lot of potential, especially with 64/128 GB SDXC cards dropping in price.
We have excellent results with the Q1604/ IR housing/Theia SL940A lens with this exact requirement.
The Q1604 is ideal as it has the ability to have a different shutter speed under low light conditions. This is essential for LPR. Testing has resulted in clear LPR of vehicles front and back at 100kmh.
Under daylight conditions the Q1604 gives clear LPR from default settings.
If the age of the Q1604 is an issue use the upgraded Q1614.
the Q1765LE does not offer the fast shutter speed function required for low light LPR so I would not recommend it.
The Q1765LE's shutter speed under low light is 1/30 at its fastest
The Q1604 can go to 1/25000 under low light.
Spec sheet doesn't show this
According to Axis, the "max exposure time" in plain conifg (under ImageSource) sets the overall slowest shutter speed allowed. So, for example setting this value to 16666 prevents the camera from ever going below 1/60s
I've used this with good success on cameras where even 1/30s was too slow to capture moving people.