Why Norwegians Love Electric Vehicles More Than the Rest of the World

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© Klimabil
At the Klimabil site, Norwegian EV buyers can shop and compare.

No one knows whether or when U.S. consumers will finally fall in love with electric vehicles. Automotive analysts at Mintel say soon; meanwhile, researchers at Indiana University are less encouraged.

In the U.S., 2012 sales of battery electric vehicles more than doubled from 2011 - however, EVs and plug-in electric hybrid vehicles were just 0.6% of all US light vehicle sales through November 2012.


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Now consider the case for Norway. More Nissan Leaf electric cars were sold in Norway than in the U.S. last year, in spite of the fact that Norway has a population that is less than one -sixtieth of the U.S. Norway has the most Tesla Model S reservations of anywhere in Europe; cummulative sales of EVs topped 10,000 in 2012, and electric vehicle sales also were 5.2% of total vehicle sales.

Why do Norwegian love EVs? And why do they overlook the range anxiety that is frequently blamed for hampering the U.S. and other markets?

Two words: comfort, and economics.

CC BY 2.0. Jamtkraft

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In Norway, buying a car is not cheap, due to taxes. Smaller cars with small engines are comparatively cheaper than larger cars.

But Norwegians aren't subject to import taxes on electric vehicles. That fact has made the all-electric Nissan Leaf one of the top-selling cars in the country (it is #13 out of the top 20).

This relative cheapness of electric cars in Norway is in sharp contrast to the rest of Europe, where EVs tend to cost more than their gas-guzzling counterparts.

But as important as the money seems to be the "comfort incentives" the Norwegian government has devised for EV-buying citizens. In Oslo, the capitol and largest city in the country, EV drivers are allowed to drive in the bus lane - cutting their commute times significantly during rush-hour traffic.

In addition, EVs are currently allowed to park for free in city spaces. EV drivers also avoid the congestion charges that other car owners are subject to.

This package of incentives, combined with the fact that Norway can now boast of 3,500 charging posts and 100 fast-charging stations, means the country has a fairly good infrastructure for drivers.

In Sweden, where just 0.13% of purchased vehicles are EVs (and most of those by municipalities and for private fleets), the green car organization Gröna Bil teamed with NGO FORES to figure out what the Norwegians had done right in getting EVs to the masses.

Gröna Bil and FORES concluded that equalizing prices between EVs and internal combustion cars is still very important, but comfort and convenience incentives play just as important a role in stimulating consumers to go electric. While Gröna Bil estimated that just around 5% of consumers in the market for a car want to be green leaders, getting the rest of us (the 95%) to buy EVs takes a combination of comparable price, comfort, and convenience. Norwegians seemed to have just gotten past that tipping point, and now now it is predicted that by 2020 there will be 200,000 EVs in the nation.

And range anxiety? Norwegians still have it, and most electric cars now on the market don't have sufficient range to get citizens out to their country summer houses on a single charge. But low prices, and the all important ability to zip through town traffic in the bus lanes seems to make up for it.