It’s expected that next month, Norway will become the first country where one out of every hundred cars is purely electric. Evidence can be seen in Oslo, where electric vehicles (EVs) appear every minute or two. While the Leaf and Tesla are the best-selling, the Think and the Buddy, both made in Norway, are also popular.
The process began years back, when the Norwegian parliament instituted a generous array of incentives to wean people off fossil fuels. EVs could use bus lanes and had free parking, ferry rides and charging at one of the 5,000 municipal charging stations. The most generous measure was an absence of tax, which was massively significant in a country where the one-time fee for new cars and VAT can double or even triple the cost of a car. As the transport minister, Ketil Solvik-Olsen put it, the measures were instituted when EVs were “tiny, kind of plastic cars seating two people, where you would freeze to death during the wintertime.” This magnanimity will end when there are 50,000 EVs or, failing that, in 2017.
With the appearance of Nissan’s Leaf and Tesla, EVs appealed not only to early adopters and the environmentally-aware and were something common consumers wanted. Terje Aasland, the environment spokesman of the Labour Party that leads the ruling coalition, remarked, “Electric vehicles are trendy.” The tax incentives thus became much more attractive.
In September 2013, Norway found itself the first country where an all-electric vehicle was the best-selling: the Tesla Model S. The next month, the Leaf was thus elevated. EVs accounted for 5.6 percent of new car sales in 2013. There are now 25,000 of them in the country, which has a population of five million, compared to 70,000 in the United States, with its population of 313 million. Elsewhere, EVs aren’t so good for the environment if the electricity they use was generated by burning fossil fuels, but in Norway, 99 percent of electricity comes from hydropower, which is clean.
Norways EV policy is not, however, without criticism. Bjart Holtsmark of Statistics Norway cycles to work and is one of the few outspoken critics. He calculates that EVs are subsidised to the tune of USD8,000/GBP4,800/EUR5,800 a year. In the United States, EVs receive a one-off payment of slightly less, with some states providing further incentives. Holtmark believes that Norway is forking out USD13,500/GBP8,100/EUR9,700 for every ton of CO2 reduction, while that much CO2 costs only USD5/GBP3/EUR3.6. He believes the money would be better spent on research into better batteries.
The figure of 50,000 EVs once seemed fantastical, but now looks like it will happen by 2015.
Timothy Chilman used to work in IT. Once, in Sydney, he was turned down for a job because he was “too flamboyant” (“Someone who wears green tartan suspenders to a job interview probably isn’t going to fit in here”). Timothy then became an English teacher. University students in Bangkok complained that he was “too enthusiastic” and company students in Prague complained that he was “too theatrical.”