Norway reported its best-ever sales in November for battery electric vehicles (BEVs) at an astonishing 11.9 percent of its total new car market. This is the first time the country topped 10 percent, and compares with 3.1 percent a year prior.
While the actual number sold last month for the country of 5.1 million people and sized slightly bigger than Montana was only 1,434 units, the rate at which it’s transitioning to BEVs is an international case example.
Small on the geographical map as it is, the country looms heads above any other in abandoning petroleum, and the speed at which its citizens are foregoing traditional internal combustion cars appears to be rapidly accelerating.
To put 11.9 percent in perspective, the U.S. November tally wound up at around 4,000 BEVs delivered – about one-third of one percent of around 1.2 million passenger vehicles delivered. If Norway’s accomplishment were transposed here, it would mean around 143,000 new electric cars roaming America’s streets in just the past four weeks.
No wonder Tesla has quickly established an assembly plant in the nearby Netherlands. Indeed, the luxury BEV maker – bolstered as it has been in the U.S. by pre-orders to fill – beat the existing best-selling Nissan Leaf with 527 units. Nissan sold 512 last month, and had been heads above all others.
Among traditional cars, Volkswagen sold 666 Golfs.
To date the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association (NEVA) estimates 19,000 BEVs are in Norway, but the sudden progress has been a relatively long time coming, and certainly not a random anomaly.
At the end of 2012 there were only 9,500 BEVs and 330 plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) estimated on Norwegian roads. That itself was a big jump of 4,359 units, but sales in 2012 were but 3.1 percent of the Norwegian total.
In 2011, BEV sales constituted just 1.6 percent of all new passenger vehicle sales.
In August 2013, BEVs were 6 percent of new car sales, previous estimates were for 5 percent this entire calendar year, and as you can see in November, nearly 12 percent were sold.
It’s been said the policy induced BEV “revolution” in Norway could not be duplicated in the U.S. due in part to dysfunctional American politics, not to mention a host of other reasons.
The Kingdom of Norway has the political will to incentivize BEVs with a capital “I” – not to mention it enjoys the most expensive gasoline in Europe.
Policymakers around the world have been invited nonetheless to learn lessons that may be applied a la carte – such as at the state level, or nationally.
A message Norwegians have offered to western policymakers is BEVs are more than about going green, as they offer energy security and other economic development opportunities including industry and job creation.
Also, as China and India rapidly seek to emulate western lifestyles, they will affect the geopolitical climate, price of oil, could also to become dependent upon potentially tense relations with oil producers, So, say Norwegian BEV advocates, what’s not to like about domestic non-polluting cars?
BEVs – and PHEVs – are however viewed primarily in Norway as a means of reducing CO2. According to current projections, the country’s fleet is on target to be emitting 85g/km or less by 2020, beating Europe’s goal of 95g/km.
‘Push’ and ‘Pull’
Presently Norwegian consumers are being enticed with a carrot and stick.
That is, the carrot is for eating, and the stick is for beating them into going green. OK, that’s an exaggeration of terms, if not metaphorically pretty accurate – and undoubtedly proponents see relief and opportunities provided by BEVs not possible before their advent.
A paper presented at the 27th Electric Vehicles Symposium (EVS 27) in Barcelona last month more benignly describes policies that both “push” and “pull” to make the total cost of ownership (TCO) as good as or better than for conventional cars.
Automobiles have always been expensive to own and drive in Norway for a variety of economic reasons and the thrust to reduce carbon emissions by increasing the percentage of non-emitting vehicles began all the way back in 1989.
As of the implementation of the most recent policies, among top benefits for electric car owners in Norway are:
• No purchase taxes (extremely high for ordinary cars)
• Exemption from 25 percent VAT on purchase
• No charges on toll roads
• Free municipal parking
• Free access to bus lanes
As of June 30, there were 4,139 public charging stations and 67 CHAdeMO fast chargers in addition to privately owned home units, and of course these numbers are still increasing fast.
It’s been said Norway has also a distinct advantage for BEV owners in that population is clustered in metro areas. This is true, but the average Norwegian drives 26 miles a day, and 15 percent of EV-owning households own only one car. Most however have two, three or more cars which means the BEV tends to be the daily local driver.
According to a poll of its over 7,000 members, NEVA says:
The typical Norwegian EV user is a middle-aged family father with higher education and income, and he owns a Nissan Leaf as one of two cars. He uses his electric car on a daily basis instead of a traditional petrol or diesel car. He uses the electric car for commuting, after work activities, and not for longer holiday trips. He agrees on that his electric car saves him money and time and he is very satisfied as an EV owner. His next car will also be electric.
The infographic depicts Norway’s BEV adoption timeline, but in brief, Norwegians began driving proverbial road-legal golf carts first with NiCad batteries but soon looked for other sources as cadmium is too toxic. They then evolved to nickel-metal hydride (NiMh) power that was less problematic, Saline batteries, and now are making do with lithium-ion which Americans are becoming accustomed to – with many sticking their noses up at these as well.
As recently as 2008, charging infrastructure in Norway was scarce. From 2009, the Transnova funding source launched a national EV infrastructure program and Oslo did so locally, quickly increasing the infrastructure.
After heavy investments in 2009 and 2010, infrastructure proliferated a bit more slowly in 2011 and 2012 just as the first of the present generation of BEVs was being launched, or in the development stage, in the case of Tesla’s S.
Norwegians were primed and ready, even as they had since learned that range estimates are less than advertised by the NEDC ratings, particularly in cold and mountainous regions.
Early adopters had long-since figured things out, and with the advent of cars that looked more normal, and boasted amenities like back seats and air-conditioning, things have been snowballing.
Reports have it that beyond ideally suited city centers, BEVs are now on the increase at a faster rate in the rural areas as the BEV fire spreads to the countryside of the least densely populated country in Europe.
Projections by Gron Bil based on currently in-place incentives are that by 2020, BEVs could comprise 12 percent of all vehicle sales and PHEVs could reach 18 percent to round out to 30 percent plug-ins in just the next half-dozen years.
Given last month 12 percent was the BEV total, perhaps projections for a moving target will need to be revised?
Showcase For All
We could go on documenting nuances of Norway’s ongoing shift away from internal combustion, but suffice to say the Scandinavian nation appears like it’s becoming convinced.
It’s a tiny nation though, and while domestic BEV makers have sought a tentative foothold, it’s not a large enough market to sway global automakers all by itself which is part of why its advocates are reaching out to share knowledge gained.
In sum, it’s adoptable plan includes numerous policies hitting all angles to coax the transition away from the entrenched petrol-based industry, and make it worth it for all concerned to jumpstart the new plug-in industry.
The goal is to increase supply and demand until incentives can be weaned away, but we’ve seen what half measures and infighting in the U.S. have gotten so far, including a presidential goal of 1 million EVs and PHEVs by 2015 that’s been laughed at by some.
But if anyone is laughing in Norway, it’s over success and progress, with real hope and change in sight.