Incentives Drive Norway To Take Lead in Electric Vehicle Sales

You might find this surprising, but Norway’s best selling cars for several months late last year were electric vehicles. EV’s accounted for more than 12% of all vehicle sales in November. With 21,000 EVs already on the road in a country of five million, EV's will soon constitute 1% of all Norwegian cars. The Nissan Leaf, priced at the lower end of the scale was the best-seller for one month, while for two months, the high end Tesla Model S topped the list. So there’s obviously a broad market being stimulated. This is a dramatically higher per capita rate of adoption than anywhere else in the world, close to 20 times that of the US.

Why so many? Well, government incentives are certainly playing a role. This is probably a case study of how effective government action can be. Zach Shahan at CleanTechnica shared survey findings that analyzed the reasons why people said they bought EVs, and rank-ordered them in a series of bar graphs. The top-ranked reason was that EV drivers would be exempt from tolls. The second reason was no vehicle purchase tax. Then was the fuel cost, about one-fifth the cost of running a comparable gasoline-powered vehicle. The fourth reason was free access to the bus lanes. In Oslo, where there’s quite a bit of traffic, EVs are allowed to use the bus lanes, which can save time when roads are crowded. This feature could become self-limiting though, as the bus lanes are filling up with electric cars which make up as much as 75% of the traffic. This brings to mind Yogi Berra, who once said, apparently referring to a popular restaurant in his native St. Louis, “Nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded.”

Free charging, available at any of the thousands of charging points, ranked as the number seven reason for buying an electric vehicle.

There’s also a low annual road fee, free parking, and free ferries, and they tend to cost less to insure, probably because there are fewer parts that would have to be repaired in case of an accident.

The bottom line seems to be that Norwegians are buying them because they’re cheap and very affordable to operate. What this shows is that you don’t have to win an ideological war to get people to buy EVs—I doubt all of these buyers are tree huggers—you just have to stimulate them in the pocketbook. Manufacturers are tuning in to the fact that Norway is a place to go to sell these vehicles. They are starting to import the BMW i3 and the Volkswagen e-Up along with Renault's Zoe and Fluence ZE models.

This challenges the implications of an MIT Technology Journal article that concluded that electric cars are not so great in the winter. I’ve heard that some of them don’t travel very well in the snow—which has also been said of hybrids. The bigger issue though, is that the batteries lose some of their capacity, plus the fact that the cabin heat is often provided by electricity, as opposed to a gas-powered car where you use excess heat generated by the engine. So, you’d think that driving in Norway where it is very cold, that would be an issue. One source said that when the weather is below freezing, EV drivers could see their range drop from 250 miles to 180, more than a 25% drop. So in very cold weather, battery capacity is down and you’re using more power to drive the heater. Cold weather also affects acceleration. But none of these things seem to be dissuading the Norwegians.

Many Norwegians own two cars, and if the EVs are principally used as commuter cars in and around Oslo, which has typical European vehicle congestion, issues of range, acceleration, and battery capacity may not be so crucial.

The bottom line is, the Norwegian government’s incentives are producing significant sales of electric vehicles, and with more experience on a large scale, we’ll know more about any potential issues as the miles accumulate. The government has capped the incentives—they expire when sales reach 50,000 or in the year 2018, whichever comes first.


Image courtesy of Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association