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How to spread Norway’s success with electric cars

Will Norway’s electric car boom out-live the tax breaks that popularised them? C.Bry@nt

Electric cars have been a huge success in Norway, with more electric cars per capita than anywhere else in the world. Sales are thriving, with Norway’s new car market boasting the largest share of electric vehicles (EV). The country’s top-selling car for the last two months is electric.

So how has Norway achieved this, some would say enviable, situation? Frequently, deploying EVs starts with government-backed national action plans. These involve demonstration pilot projects, “learning by doing”, and introducing EVs as company cars in those firms with big fleets. Not so in Norway. Here, company fleets’ use of EVs lags behind private consumers.

Of course electric vehicles of any kind rely on electric charging infrastructure in order to be useful. Financial incentives, since EVs are relatively expensive, are also common. These, and the need to introduce consistent and institutionalised policies and legal frameworks governing use and investment in EVs, are among the initial challenges faced.

The Nordic model

Norway has in place several policies and tools at hand to speed the uptake of EVs. Their rapid expansion to date has most likely been spurred on by strong financial incentives. For example, considerably reduced taxes, worth around US$8,200 (£5,000) per car each year, have been very important. Due to a strict tax regime, conventional vehicles can be twice as expensive in Norway as in other European countries. While EVs are expensive relative to their size and luxury, the tax breaks they come with bring down their price to around the same as petrol and diesel vehicles, making them a viable alternative for many Norwegian households. Other incentives include free access to public parking, toll roads, ferries and charging stations, and the opportunity to use bus lanes.

So, all in all, the incentives of Norwegian EV policy and the establishment of Transnova, which provides finance to build charging facilities, have reduced the barriers to entry considerably, making EVs accessible to buy and attractive to use. It’s important that these incentives have some longevity, and to provide this the government has stated they will continue until 2017, or until the number of EVs on Norway’s streets hits 50,000.

Peer pressure

There is a cultural dimension to the enthusiasm for EVs in Norway over and above just saving time and money. The extra benefits of being able to drive in the bus lane, free parking, avoid toll charges and so on add to their cultural cachet, but they are also widely seen as comfortable and efficient due to their small size, electric engine and fast acceleration. They also provide the satisfaction of driving a less polluting car.

Demonstrating environmental concerns by driving an EV is important to some people. As more and more people choose them, it appears to be a more reasonable choice for others – particularly those with environmental leanings. This is at least true for countries like Norway where electricity is mainly produced from renewable sources.

Their range, often a concern of new electric drivers, is seldom found to be a problem. Most daily trips are within the cars’ range – and EV drivers have adopted their usage around it. Many households also have a conventionally powered car at their disposal.

We have also noted that EV drivers tend to act as very enthusiastic advocates, extolling their virtues at work and among friends. So the “show and tell” of positive experiences also contributes to the continued upward trend of EVs in Norway.

Taking the success elsewhere

What steps could be taken in the UK to deliver Norway’s success? It’s not easy to replicate the situation in Norway in other countries. Other countries have much less tax on conventional cars, and might deem it too expensive to implement the other favours Norway bestows upon electric vehicle drivers. But there may be other lessons to learn from the Norwegian case.

Hands-on experience driving an electric car seems to be a crucial step towards becoming an owner. So by letting people get first-hand experience driving an EV, through the use of pilot projects, for instance, may lead more people to think that an electric car is the right choice for them. In short, it is important to provide public access to EVs, taking them out of the realms of the hypothetical and onto the station forecourt. This is key – and a critical element of the popularity of EVs is the way each new electric car driver tends to pass their news of the experience and benefits to the next.

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