Lessons From Norway: Dispatch From Electric Car Revolution

MAR 1 2019 BY BRADLEY BERMAN 69

If an EV revolution could happen in Norway, it can happen anywhere.

To visit Norway is to see the future of electric cars. That’s the feeling I got as I walked around Oslo’s streets a couple of weekends ago. Everywhere you turn you see LEAFs, i3s, and Teslas – as well as I-Paces, Kona EVs, E-Golfs, and others.

You’ve probably read that 34 percent of Norway car sales in 2018 were pure EVs. And that EV sales will eclipse 50 percent of the market this year. But it’s another thing for your head to constantly spin in circles when you are surrounded by electric cars. About one in eight cars on Oslo roads are now electric.

(Photo: Bradley Berman)

To gain a better understanding of what led to Norway’s EV revolution, I sat down with Christina Bu, the chief executive of the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association. The organization has a staff of 30 people and 70,000 paying members. Members can get questions answered about anything EV-related via email or a call center. The group maintains 11 regional chapters, holds an annual assembly, and will host the impressive 2019 Nordic EV Summit 2019 in a few weeks.

The Key Is Price Parity

“If we can do EVs in Norway, you can do it bloody hell everywhere,” said Bu. She dismisses any notion that Norwegians are greener than Americans and quickly dispels the “Norway is rich” theory.

Christina Bu (Photos: Elbil.no)

“We get the question all the time: Why is it working in Norway? It’s a simple answer,” Bu explained. “The price is more or less level.” She said that regular consumers should not be expected to pay thousands of dollars extra for an unfamiliar technology, especially for a big-ticket item like an automobile.

The fact that Norway charges hefty taxes on all cars – fees that are waived for pure electric vehicles – is the mechanism at play in Norway. But she believes that there are multiple paths to price parity, like the bonus-malus system in Sweden in which polluting gas cars are taxed to raise funds to pay for EV incentives.

She understands that the United States can’t just copy a system of taxing cars, but “if you can do a little bit more, it’s a lot better than doing nothing.” Besides, Bu projects that higher EV production volumes and reduced battery costs will naturally bring the essential price parity. “You will get price parity on a global level faster than most people understand,” she said.

Change Happens Fast

When price parity was reached in Norway – and there were plenty of electric cars available for sale – objections fell away. “Norway is a huge country. There are mountains, and it’s freezing. It’s difficult to do charging,” Bu told me. “Of course there are challenges, but it’s not impossible. And it’s not impossible in the United States.”

Based in my few days in and around Oslo, driving and charging an EV was commonplace and mainstream – even in the middle of February.

(Photo: Bradley Berman)

In the most frigid and rural district of Finnmark – near the polar circle – about 7 percent of car sales last year were all-electric. When the 40-kWh, 150-mile LEAF was introduced, sales at one Nissan dealership in Finnmark went from two units in 2017 to more than 30 in 2018.

 

Other incentives, like reduced tolls, lower fuel costs, and preferred parking, are helpful. For example, EV sales are exceptionally high in western island regions where there a lot of toll bridges and roads – and zero-emission vehicles are exempt.

Regardless, according to Bu, consumers are not good at calculating the total cost of ownership. They want to see price parity at the time of purchase.

High taxes in cars have been in place since the early 1990s, but when the first practical electric cars, like the Nissan LEAF, started to arrive in 2011, the race was on.

Viktor Lander, a management consultant in Oslo, was one of the early buyers motivated not by climate change but the combination of price parity and vehicle availability. “When I bought the car, there were many advantages to the electric cars provided by both national and local authorities,” he told me. “I bought the Nissan LEAF because it was the first family-size vehicle with incredible benefits package provided by the authorities.”

Word of Mouth

Bu described the importance of the so-called neighbor effect. She said that in 2011 and 2012, sales were modest. “It was a little slow, and then suddenly your neighbor bought an EV. And then your colleague at work. And you know how enthusiastic EV owners can be,” she said. “Suddenly it started spreading.”

Surveys conducted by the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association revealed that new EV owners commonly convince three others to buy an EV. The rise from 5 percent in 2013 to an expected 50 percent in 2019 was more abrupt than anybody anticipated. “If you can have that much of a shift in six years, then you can in America as well,” she said.

According to Bu, there are now 40,000 Norwegians who submitted deposits for an electric car and are waiting for the vehicle to arrive. That’s in a country that sells 150,000 new cars a year. When the Kona Electric – a long-range, affordable electric vehicle well suited to winter driving – was introduced last July, Hyundai made more than 7,000 advanced sales in just two weeks. The list of interested Kona EV buyers exceeds 20,000 people in Norway.

The Implications for Charging – and Fossil Fuels

With strong, sustained momentum for EV sales in place, the next challenge is public charging, according to Bu. The association’s surveys reveal that the vast majority of Norwegian EV drivers charge at home. But 80 percent report fast-charging in public on a monthly basis.

It’s popular among Norwegians to visit winter cabins or mountain destinations on the weekends. So they rely on quick-charging to get out of town and back. Fifty-eight percent said they experienced queues at fast-charging stations either “occasionally” or “often.”

Friday afternoon at a charging location north of Oslo. Thirty stalls are not enough. (Source: Elbil.no)

“When we have 1.5 million electric cars in 2025, what will happen on a Friday afternoon or Sunday?” Bu wonders. “I don’t know.”

The association is getting ahead of the problem by calculating the current number of cars per fast-charger – currently about a ratio of 120 to 1 – and the length of queues. This will form the basis of the organization’s recommendations to government about future charging needs. “Norway is the first country having to deal with this,” she said. “We don’t have anywhere else to look and learn.”

Carmakers, Beware!

Meanwhile, the rapid rise of EVs in Norway has caught the attention of global automakers and oil companies. They commonly visit the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association to learn what it might mean for the future. More than a dozen automakers have met with Bu. “My second job is to scare car manufacturers,” said Bu with a mischievous smile.

Consider this: Mazda, which has no EV, has seen its market share cut in half in Norway, according to Bu. She told me that a local car dealership recently declared bankruptcy – blaming the rise of EVs and how they removed the dealer’s significant revenue from oil changes and other service visits.

Bu predicts that we will likely see one or two bankruptcies among major carmakers in the next five years. A few years ago, most of the international visitors to the association’s office were foreign journalists. Today they are commonly carmakers, oil companies, and petrol-station chains. “It’s a good thing,” she said. “It shows that we are really starting to see the beginning of the shift.”

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69 Comments on "Lessons From Norway: Dispatch From Electric Car Revolution"

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Mazda, which has no EV, has seen its market share cut in half in Norway, according to Bu. She told me that a local car dealership recently declared bankruptcy – blaming the rise of EVs and how they removed the dealer’s significant revenue from oil changes and other service visits.

Let that be a warning; California is next!

Yeah but Norway is rich. Doesn’t matter how you look at it, EVs are indeed heavily subsidized in Norway.

I think of it more as a carbon tax than an EV subsidy.

Call it what you want. Norway asks you to pay a nice sum of money if you want to drive a car and if you want Ev, they let you off easy. Subsidy? Tax? Who really cares? Quite difficult for a poor state to do just that.

Norway heavily taxed all cars before EVs. And they still heavily tax almost everything else.

????
It is wasy for a poor state to do that. Basically, the ICE car buyers are funding the buying of EVs, not gov.

Fossil-fuel powered vehicles are subsidized EVERYWHERE. The subsidy comes in the form of sparing their manufacturers the cost of flooding of coastal cities, acidification of the oceans, intensification of the damages from hurricanes, desertification of agriculturally productive land, …

As long as polluters can externalize the costs of their pollution, they can continue to pretend that their less-polluting competition is being “unfairly subsidized”.

and yet, the far left are doing the same things. Pushing AE, backing it up with nat gas, continues to create loads of CO2.

And? Is that a bad thing? Oil and coal are heavily subsidized in our country.

Did you read the article?
She dismisses any notion that Norwegians are greener than Americans and quickly dispels the “Norway is rich” theory.

“Norway belongs to the leading group of the richest countries in the world measured by GDP per capita.”

also oddly enough, as it pertains to their EV adoption: “Norwegian public finances are boosted by significant revenues from the petroleum sector.”

They have a sovereign oil fund of over $1 trillion (almost $200k per person). They’re using the spoils of big oil, pushing it to other countries, to make a better life for themselves.

Do Not Read Between The Lines

They could have blown the wealth on gas guzzlers, but they chose not to do so, and now they have a massive investment fund that will help the remain wealthy in the future even when the oil and gas are gone.

Norway also has hydroelectricity. Norway is using the spoils of the fjords and pushing it to other countries, with HVDC interconnections to Denmark and the Netherlands, and under construction to Germany and the United Kingdom.

fasterthanonecanimagine

Just a couple of days ago, the Norwegian parliament has decreed that the country’s UNESCO-protected fjords shall be free from cruise and ferry emissions no later than 2026, This shall be achieved by “using a combination of effective legislation and the most advanced hybrid and battery technology available today, and technologies that will emerge”.

And ironicly our govt has allowed TWO new mining projects to dump their toxic waste in two fjords, one of them a national salmon river on indigenous land.

wow. I modded you up, but that belongs down. That is sad.

In fact, northern Europe makes heavy use of geothermal, Hydroelectricity and Nuclear power to clean their air and keep prices low. As they switch to EVs, Northern Europe will be the best nations to emulate.

Here in Canada the Petro-Super-Fund was blown by politicians on items to get re-elected.

The same for most oil-rich counties, the wealth has been wasted by the ruling classes on expensive lifestyles and/or military system to keep in power.

The subsidies occur on the use side, not the supply side. Somebody has to supply oil to meet the worlds needs. Would you prefer the wealth go to Norwegians or Saudis? Think about Khashoggi for a minute before you answer.

No as the article said ice cars are taxed. Arguing a tax on one thing is a subsidy on something else is strange. Tax is being used as a tool of social policy. Just like cigarette or alcohol taxes. No on argues alcohol taxes are subsidy’s for coco cola.

Great comparison! I will use it from now on whenever someone brings the “EVs are subsidized” “argument”

Coca cola doesn’t get free VAT, ergo not subsidized. 0% VAT and weight tax, not to mention, free parking and tolls, is indeed a subsidy. But you can call it what you want, I don’t care. To the fossil fuels subsidy crowd… Oil is anything but subsidized in Europe, my country doesn’t even have carrier strike groups, so, enough with that nonsense. To the point, arguing that a poor country like Portugal or Greece or some poor American state could have the same policy as Norway is disingenuous and lazy. NORWAY IS RICH. I know it, you know it, they know it. Apparently, the only person who doesn’t know it is Christina BU. To be clear, I think it’s great they do it. Norway is indeed a case study and everyone in the world should be applauding.

How rich the population is, can actually be discussed. How much can they buy with what is left of the paycheck after taxes? Depends on where you live. If I lived in the capital, I would make at least twice as much as now. I hardly ever go out to eat. It cost too much. A pizza and two beverages cost clost to $100. If I take the family to the cinema, another $100. Same with bowling. If I was not able to repair appliences and electronics myself – I had to pay $100-200 an hour for labour. Just like if you have maintenance on a vehicle. The parts for the car will cost 2-4 times as much as in the US. Most labour intensive jobs will cost a lot. The way I work now, I have about $100 left after I’ve paid taxes, insurance, house and car payments. For those $100 I’m supposed to coved car maintenance, pay for clothing, hobbies, sports equipment and membership fees for the family as well as any unexpected costs. I don’t feel rich. I have to work a lot of extra hours to cover normal living costs. I could of course find another… Read more »

Did you not read the article? The buyers of ICE cars are subsidizing the EVs.

Nice story, thank you!
Just curious: Did you go especially on an InsideEV mission, or something else brought you to Norway in February?

I liked the story as well and I would be curious if they have had any issue with excessive rates for fast charging.

I think the article is well timed given the anti-EV coverage from the last Polar Vortex. I don’t think I heard a single news organization point out that the battery that starts your ICE car or the diesel fuel that turned to jelly is far more likely to have stranded motorists than the reduced range of an EV. My first thought when I heard these stories was “Has anyone checked how well EVs work in Norway? That country is really cold all winter long”

Do Not Read Between The LInes

For most Norwegians it’s not “really cold”.

In Oslo, the average low in January and February is only -5.3C and average highs are only below freezing in January. Oslo is colder than most of the other larger cities in Norway. And even Tromso doesn’t get that cold. A lot of the population lives close to the coast, where conditions are milder than in the interior.

EVs have succeeded by a combination of economy, tax policy, subsidies and the fact that electricity is cheap (hydro).

Clearly “really cold” is a subjective measure. 0C is really cold in my book:)

My electric bill is getting more expensive despite changing all out lights to LED and upgrading our home to energy efficient heating, last month I paid 3700 NOK, the month before was 3200. Living in Norway is getting more expensive by the minute. In the near future the small town I live (pop 27000) in will have a toll ring around it, I live outside of town, there is no public transport that will get me to and from work and let me pick up my children from school. My wife also works different hours from me so we can’t ride share. Tolls will cost us an additional 20000 per year minimum.

We had +18,9 C in February.. but we also had 2-3 weeks with snow. The temperature have changed more then when I was a kid. We used to be able to skii, use sledges, go skating on lakes for at least 2 month in the winter. Now, many kids does not know how to skii, unless their parents take them on a trip up in the mountains.
Oslo is btw colder then where I live. More benefits from the Gulf Stream I guess.

I prefer at least a month of proper winter, with temperatures cold enought to kill off bugs and critters. Need a proper winter to kill ticks, slugs and what not. . to keep invading species and diseasees away.
It’s nice to be able to go skiing for a few hours after work too. Without having to drive to a ski resort.

Some places in Norway is not affected by our weather changes, and still have a cold and dark winter which reach -35 or -40 C every winter. More moisture have been problematic for reindeer, since it cover the ground with ice, all the way over the polar circle. It covers the food reindeers eat.

I am curious as to the effect this growth has had on gas sales. Also, has the local pollution in cities and larger communities been noticeably reduced.

Do Not Read Between The Lines

Well, one of the two hydrogen pump operators closed down its pumps.

Oh, you mean gasoline. Well, gasoline and diesel sales overall continued to rise until last year.

Gasoline and diesel sales are already declining in Norway. The 2019 statistics will be great.

Most of the local pollution has not directly been from the burning of fossil fuel. With maybe 2-3 exceptions. Road dust has been a major deal of the problem (even though the fossil fuel have been good as well). At the same time as the EV change – oil heating has been illegal, wood ovens had to be of the new clean buring type. Bus and truck use of diesel has not changed – but they are quickly changed to comply with the newes Euro regulations. If you own a bus company, you can not win ANY contracts with cities if the bus does not follow the newes stricktes rules. . or run on natural gas for example. We see a change towards electric buses, and the electric trucks are slowly entering the (test) market now. Some places have seen a change in fossil fuel use, but other places it has stayed the same. The population have increased by several hundred thousand people due to imigration from Northern Africa and the Middle East which need transportation too, and which the statistics don’t consider. By 2025, the change will be MASSIVE. Electric cars, electric trucks and electric buses. The largest change… Read more »

“The organization has a staff of 30 people and 70,000 paying members. Members can get questions answered about anything EV-related via email or a call center.”

Gulp. That’s really great, we’re going to need something similar here to help the public incorporate EV’s into their lives.

I’ve always been curious to see what an EV society looks like. It’s also cool that we can always point to Norway when folks complain about EV’s in cold weather. Great article Brad!

I would guess that the organization is effective at countering the ICE FUD, but maybe the social media revolution can overcome the need to for early adopters to subsidize the promotion of EVs.

I’m glad they charge CO2 tax. Pollution tax should be charged way more!! Make it $3/ gallon!!

Sure you don’t want it to be $6,47/gallon as we pay in Norway? You would have experienced changes soon. Not all good though. Want to take a drive to meet you family.. fork up $60. Imagine you own a business, and you have invested a certain amount of money in the facility, and it is located a fair distance from where your workers live – and then your workers have to pay that price for fuel. Expect a lot to quit, of you have to offer a shuttle service (that cost), or expect to pay them quite a lof of extra money every day, just to compansate for the cost to travel too and from work. If you run a business, and you have an employee that becomes ill during the day – and you start calling other employees to see if they can fill in the next 2-4 hours, and they say: sorry, the cost to get too and from work is not worth it for me. I would have worked for free. If I can’t work more then 8 hours I’m not interested. Imagine you need a plummer, a carpenter a gardener or something similar.. imagine what the… Read more »
Do Not Read Between The Lines

Did you ask her about access to home charging in rented accommodation, and whether the popularity of EVs is having any affect on that?

Making home charging available for people living in flats etc. is a major focus at the moment in Norway. When the new government platform was negotiated recently, one of the promises is to support installation of charging infrastructure in car parking facilities for multifamily residential housing.
Because the EV sales is so high now in Norway it is also much easier than before to explain the need for charging points. There is an emerging understanding that providing charging points can influence real estate prices.

Nice to see the damage on the stupid Mazda.
I often see toyota/lexus dealerships with decimated sales. Would love to see them completely destroyed.

I hope Toyota will soon provide BEVs. They have probably realised that they need to change, but a bit late.

I have seen the future! It seems to be snowing.

Hooray! That means we fix climate change!

Why no mention of renault Zoe

In the US at least half the chargers she is standing in front of would be vandalized or inoperative due to lack of maintenance.

Switzerland is super rich as well and though, EV share is very small.
It’s all about politics, and the will to change with clear advantages for EV…free parking etc…

All the charging stations full and its really electron slowing COLD. If it works, it works, we hope and pray.

Please, stop making comments about the “rich” countries buying EVs. In America peoples buy expensive SUV and Trucks, expensive to buy and expensive to use.
Tacking into account fuel economy and incitives, the model 3 now starts about 27 000 USD while the everage price of a new car in the US is probably 10 000 USD higher. And yes tacking incitives and fuel economy make sens when you are comparing with ICE cars.
The problem for EVs is not anymore affordability but the fact that peoples do not want to change their way of dealing with cars even for the better. So the key for more EVs is… More EVs! That’s why it does not matter what brand peoples buy, a Bolt sold is good for Tesla sells and vice-versa.

The worst problem in the US is the political will, or lack thereof. Every politician in the Republican Party is bought by the Fossil Fuel oligarchs.

and you might want to add in the fact that the far left is fighting against nuclear power, while at the same time, pushing to give china a free pass, even though they are the worst.

It’s about what a country spends it’s resources on. US military expenditures are more than the next 20 countries combined. US is rich, it just spends all it’s resources wastefully including an abundance of fossil fuels. It takes a whole lot of petrochemicals to support the largest military on Earth.

Bradley,
I am going to Norway in a few weeks and I’ve hoped to scope out the EV landscape there. It doesn’t seem there’s a good way to rent one (other than a Tesla) without a Scandinavian driver’s license. Any tips?

That’s no problem, but Nabobil still only rents cars to drivers with Scandinavian licenses.

Interesting how the Nissan Leaf was the best selling car in Norway in 2018, phenomenal stat and to me shows that like in the article price parity with petrol / diesel is really going to be start the shift, I don’t think this is far away but I do feel that car makers could do more to get there sooner but at present with government subsidies why bother when they can easily make profits on EV, in my opinion it’s a matter of time before a big manufacturer changes philosophy and whoever it is will see massive short term sales until others are forced to follow.

Porsche, and maybe Jaguar, have made the switch. Porsche is trying hard to keep quiet on it, but it is obvious that they are building EVs that will take on Tesla, knowing that by definition, these new cars will also be superior to their old ICE vehicles.
The rest are still playing and hoping that they do not have to do anything.

Norway has a good average income across the population in part because they have oil revenues that go into and out of a sovereign fund… They are also a hard working people. But far more important than having the funds is how they use them. The Norwegians have a good track record of investing their funds in good/productive domestic causes and processes, rather than handing it out to get/stay elected. Mind you, Norway had/has a huge stake in the oil industry, but they recognized EVs were/are good for Norway [less pollution and more savings] and decided to more properly encourage this good thing [level the cost]. Their investment can decline over time while the benefits grow.
Ms Bu is quite right to point out that America has the wealth to do better, it just doesn’t have the forward thinking collective will to act. Maybe we shouldn’t accept No for an answer anymore.

Hmmm.
The problem is not politicians saying no. It is voters screwing up.
1) we have the far right pushing fossil fuels. Basically, they are doing what their fascist overlords tell them to vote.
2) then we have the far left, that also follow their dictatorial leaders to block clean nuclear power here, as well as push to allow China to grow their emissions to insane amounts.

That is our real problem.

All countries should copy this model.