Where did that car come from?!

In terms of electric cars, Norway, and especially Oslo, sounds like a paradise, but there’s always more than meets the eye. Electric car sales in Norway have grown rapidly in recent years and revolutionised transportation, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

Tesla is very popular in Oslo.

Oslo is the capital and most populous city in the Kingdom of Norway. It is a modern Scandinavian city with a high standard of living. With around seven hundred thousand inhabitants, Oslo is a very big city in terms of Scandinavia, but not massive compared to rest of Europe.

When talking about Oslo and Norway, it is impossible not to think about money. In fact, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit Oslo ranked as the third most expensive city in the world in 2015. According to United Nations data from 2016, Norway, together with Luxembourg and Switzerland, are the only countries in the world with a GDP per capita above US$70,000 that are not island nations nor microstates.

But Norway is the best country in the world when it comes to selling electric cars. Almost one in every three new cars sold in Norway were purely electric in 2018. And the sales continue to grow.

Impressions from the streets

The streets in Oslo are filled with electric cars. According to Norwegian student, Jørgen Henriksen Tesla is the most common car he sees. Tesla is an American electric car manufacturer that holds a big share in the electric car market.

“I feel like every other car in here is a Tesla”, says Henriksen. His feeling is pretty accurate; in March 2019 Tesla had a market share of 31,7% of new cars sold in Norway.

Another thing you notice in Oslo is the sound of the traffic. Electric cars do not make the noise regular cars do, except for the sound of the tires against asphalt. But in the city, driving speeds are so low that you practically can’t hear the cars. And on Karl Johans gate, Oslo’s main street, cars are banned entirely.

“It’s crazy that you might not notice a car until it’s driving by you. The traffic really is quiet”, says Henriksen.

Electric car sales going crazy

In 2018, over fifty percent of the new cars sold in Norway were pure electric cars or hybrids. For explanation, hybrid cars use two or more distinct types of power, such as a “normal” engine to drive an electric generator that powers an electric motor. For comparison, number of new cars sold in the United States and China that were pure electric or hybrids is around two percent. Those numbers are huge, and the growth of the sales is not going to stop.

In March of 2019, for the first time in history more than half of the passenger car market in Norway was fully electric. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be, says Unni Berge, head of Communication and PR from the Norwegian EV Association, which has represented Norwegian electric car owners for more than 20 years. She thinks that hybrid cars are just ashort transition from regular cars to electric ones.

Unni Berge, head of Communication and PR from the Norwegian EV Association.

“We want to pursue precisely the use and sales of BEVs, battery electric vehicles, or as simply said, pure electric cars. The sales from the start of this year look really good, and we believe that BEV market share in 2019 will be over fifty percent,” says Berge.

Zero emissions after 2025

The boom of electric cars in Norway started approximately in 2014. The year before only six percent of cars sold in Norway were pure electric. In 2014, it was 13 percent. By 2018, the market share of those cars was 31 percent.

Currently, there is no reason this growth will stop any time soon.. The Norwegian Parliament has set a goal that by 2025 only cars with zero emission will be sold in Norway.

“Norway shows the whole world that pure electric cars can replace petrol and diesel cars and become an important contribution to combat CO2 emissions, as well as relieving local air from other harmful gases caused by burning fossil fuels,” says Christina Bu, Secretary General of the EV Association.

State helps electric car owners

One could wonder, “how can electric cars be so popular in Norway? Doesn’t it cost a fortune to buy one?” One could think that “of course they can do it in Norway, because everyone there is rich”. That might well be true, Norwegian GDP is over 70,000 US dollars per capita, but electric cars are not only for rich people. Berge says that everyone who could afford a new car in Norway, could afford an electric one.

“Let’s take Volkswagen Golf, very popular, reasonably priced small car as an example. Because all of the financial support the state provides, there is no difference between Golf being regular or electric version. In fact, with the costs of fuel the regular one becomes more expensive in time,” she says.

The financial support that Berge mentions is remarkable. People who buy a purely electric car are rewarded with a string of incentives worth thousands of euros. Buyers escape heavy import or purchase taxes and are also exempt from 25% VAT. They also avoid road tax, road tolls, pay half price on ferries, get free municipal parking in cities and can usually use bus lanes. What is still left to pay?

Erik Figenbaum, chief research engineer at Norway’s Institute of Transport Economics, did the maths to compare the two different Volkswagen Golfs for The Guardian. At first, the imported VW e-Golf cost around 32,000 euros before taxes, far more than the petrol-fuelled Golf at 22,500 euros. After the Norwegian tax system has done its work, the figures look very different. The petrol version incurs 6,639 euros in registration tax, while VAT at 25% adds another 5,621 euros, lifting the purchase price to almost 35 000 euros. That makes the petrol car thousands of euros more expensive.

Obviously, Norway’s wealth as a nation helps provide this kind of support.

“It is difficult to say if other countries could do the same. As a rich country we can do a lot for the environment, and it’s good that money is spent that way. But I’m sure that in the future more and more countries could and will do same things as Norway,” says Berge.

“Electric cars are fun to drive”

One might have various of reasons to drive an electric car. The first electric car taxi driver Trond Sømme might have the most popular reason.

“As a taxi driver, I want to do my bit for the environment,” says Sømme. He also has another, more unorthodox reason to drive an electric car.

“I stopped using fuelled cars because electric cars are more fun to drive,” he says with a laugh.

Not for everyone

But how about the people who can’t afford a new car? The whole electric car revolution doesn’t really concern them says Henriksen.

“As a student, there is no chance for me to get an electric car yet. Even though I feel that my standards of living are pretty high, I couldn’t afford a new car,” he says.

If Henriksen was to buy a car, it would have to be second-hand. And because all electric cars are rather new, there isn’t really a market for used electric cars.

“If someone sells his electric car, it would still be too expensive for a student or someone poor,” Henriksen adds.

Berge also admits that electric cars aren’t for everyone yet. But she thinks there is no stopping of them taking over.

“The used electric car market will develop in time. Lifetime of an electric car is already very good, and technology is going forward all the time,” says Berge.

Problems to be solved

While Oslo and Norway may be seen as a paradise for electric cars and their owners, there are issues as well. According to Berge the biggest issue concerning electric car drivers is the infrastructure. Berge herself has to drive a diesel car, because she lives in an apartment house which doesn’t have charging spots for electric cars nearby.

“Of course, when the number of electric cars is increasing that fast, we need more and more charging spots. And right now, we don’t have anywhere near enough of them,” says Berge.

The whole infrastructure in Oslo needs a change. The number of electric cars surpassed two hundred thousand in Norway this year. But when talking about charging spots, there are only a few thousand of them. Not even tens of thousands. In the city, there are no charging spots after charging spots in every street. You might bump into one charging spot for two cars on the side of the street, but you might have to drive another ten minutes to find the next one. And the chances of the spot being unoccupied by another car is minimal. In a perfect world, everyone could charge their cars at home, but that is not going to be a reality in the near future.

Other problems originate from the cars. Technology has not developed far enough that you could drive from Oslo to northern parts of Norway without charging. And eventually the countryside should have charging spots as well. The size of anelectric car is also a problem, especially for families.

Charging spots are located for example in front of big stores.

“Norwegians want to buy big cars. Families want to go skiing in the winter and to their summer cottages in the summer, and because of that they want their car to have room. Most of the electric cars are pretty small, and they don’t serve that need,” says Berge.

Changes needed quickly

The infrastructure is going to change, rather sooner than later. As mentioned earlier, Norway’s target is that by 2025 they sell only cars with zero emissions. The city of Oslo expects to have a zero carbon emissions public transport system by 2020. Those goals are ambitious, so these changes need to happen soon.

But one thing is sure, Norway and Oslo have done so much right in terms of electric cars. And those are things the rest of the world can learn from.