BARCELONA, SPAIN—I am reporting this week from Spain and the 27th edition of the big international Electric Vehicle Show, and the big news (besides meeting one of my editors, Teresa, who lives here) is from Norway. The plucky Scandinavian country has reason to strut its stuff at the show, because its electric car numbers are off the charts.
The most popular new car in Norway right now is the Nissan Leaf. In September, the Tesla Model S took the honors. Yes, the bestselling Norwegian cars have plugs. “In Norway, we already have a functioning market for EVs,” said Ole Elvestuen, a former deputy mayor of Oslo and chair of the Committee on Energy and the Environment. “People are buying them because they’re practical, but also because EVs are exempt from all taxes, including VAT.”
And how they’re buying them. Cars with plugs are currently eight percent of the Norwegian new car market, compared to less than one percent in the U.S. Despite the cold Nordic climate, a challenge for EVs because of demands on batteries and energy-sucking heaters, the take rate has been soaring. Infrastructure is one reason: There are 700 municipal charging stations, and 300 other public outlets, plus 13 fast chargers.
Oslo’s own car fleet will be zero emission by 2020. Already on the road in the greater Oslo area are 8,000 electric cars of various types, with the Leaf being the most popular. The total in the whole country is 10,000. Every day, up to 3,000 electric commuter vehicles enter Oslo. The cars get free parking downtown, can use the bus lanes, and on and on. They’re actually getting so numerous that commuters complain that the downtown is clogged with the parking freeloaders. There’s broad bipartisan agreement to keep the subsidies until 2018, Elvestuen said.
“It’s not a revolution, it’s an evolution,” said Ole Hannisdahl, project manager of the Norwegian Green Car (Gronn Bil) project. Hannisdahl points to a chart that explains just what a bargain Norwegians get with electric cars. The Model S, for instance, costs 70,000 Euros, but if you want a BMW M5—a fire-breather that costs about the same as the Tesla in the U.S.—it’s more than twice as much.
Wow! Even plug-in hybrids (not being zero emission) pay VAT, so a car like Volvo’s diesel plug-in hybrid—clean by any standard—is still a very expensive car in Norway (though the VAT is coming down quickly). The Model S has sold close to 1,000 units in Norway. “And the waiting list is huge,” said Hannisdahl, whose mission is to convince 200,000 citizens to by EVs by 2020. Also long is the list for such made-in-Europe EVs as the BMW i3 and Volkswagen E-Up. If there weren’t these supply constraints, Hannisdahl says that EV sales could easily reach 15,000 a year, which is 10 percent of the market.
More than 1,000 Mitsubishi I-MiEVs, an also-ran in the U.S., are on the road in Norway. Even the tiny (and rather hideous) Buddy (a descendant of the unloved Kewet) is a hit in Norway, with 1,700 sold. It’s made in Norway, a survivor, unlike the fondly remembered Think City I once went to Finland to test drive. “Think might have made it if it could have gotten airborne early, but instead they are toast,” said Hauge.
“Cost of ownership and purchase price are convincing Norwegians to buy electric cars now, but after buying and driving an EV people become more convinced of their value,” said Espen Hauge, president of the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association (Norsk Elbinforening). “The range of the Leaf is more than sufficient for most Norwegian drivers.”
Norway, Norway, Norway. For electric cars, this is ground zero right now. If you want a fond dream of what electric car sales could be, look no further.