Vikings surging ahead.
- 15. April 2015
- Photos: Dieter Rebmann
- Text: Walter Wuttke
In Norway electric cars are reasonably priced, can be charged for free and are quick around town. A drive through Oslo with the B-Class Electric Drive.
ELECTRO-PIONEER REFUSED TO PAY TOLL CHARGES
In the beginning the success of electromobility in Norway followed no government master plan, and no environmental strategy lay behind the spread of electric mobility. In 1988, when the rest of the automotive world was still paying scant attention to electric vehicles, the environmental activist Frederic Hauge and a number of like-minded people started a campaign, and he imported an Italian compact car whose interior was almost completely filled by a battery pack and which initially presented a problem for the Norwegian vehicle registration authorities. The electro-pioneer also refused to pay toll charges, which regularly led to the vehicle being confiscated and auctioned off. “Nobody wanted it though, so we were always able to buy it back at less than the cost of paying the fines. This happened around 15 times,” says Hauge, who is now head of the international environmental organisation Bellona.
Buddy has a length of just 2.44 metres, and can therefore also be parked end-on.
TEN GRAMS BELOW THE LIMIT SET BY THE EUROPEAN UNION (EU)
The innovative pioneers of the 1990s provided the impetus for a development that has made the kingdom the global market leader in electromobility. “Norwegians are always open to innovations, and thanks to the cost advantages over new conventional cars, there were no particular psychological barriers to overcome,” says Sture Portvik, who is responsible for electromobility in the city administration. “It is also helpful if the innovations come from established manufacturers”. And the Norwegians are prepared to pay a tidy sum for it. “We spend the equivalent of € 400 million each year on supporting electromobility,” says the junior minister in the Ministry for the Environment and Climate, Jens Frohlich Holte. The “Grön Bil” (green car law) envisages that at least 200,000 electric vehicles and as many again plug-in hybrids will be on the Norwegian roads by 2020.
ELECTRIC VEHICLES EXEMPT FROM TAXES AND FEES
Nowadays the electric cars gliding silently along the streets no longer turn any heads. They are just as much part of the street scene as the many ageing saloons from neighbouring Sweden that remind us of the fossil-fuel epoch. There are solid financial reasons for the success of electromobility in Norway. While environmental aspects were the primary concern for the pioneers, the average Norwegian nowadays tots up the various subsidies available and opts for the electrically powered alternative. The kingdom has taxed automobiles since 1917, and because the vehicles were considered a luxury at that time, the taxes were set correspondingly high. That situation has not changed to this day – for conventionally powered automobiles. The tax package can quickly drive the price to astronomical levels, unless one opts for a vehicle with electric drive. For example, the price of an American sports car with a muscular V8 engine under the bonnet increases to the equivalent of € 172,000. The high taxes and charges are now having the disadvantage that the vehicle population is severely overaged, with negative environmental effects.
Drivers of electric cars enjoy benefits such as free charging at public charging stations …
ONLY THE FINANCIAL ADVANTAGES COUNT.
Conventionally powered cars are only used as second cars by many e-motorists. “Norwegians love their weekend cottages, and as the electric operating range is not always sufficient, the conventional car is taken out of the garage at weekends,” Portvik explains.
Public bodies are also following private customers into electromobility. “The city of Oslo owns 1000 e-vehicles, and the postal service around 800,” says Portvik. There are also tenders in progress to convert the bus fleet to biogas.
The Norwegians are undoubtedly environmentally aware, for example the association “Grandparents against Climate Change” collects signatures in the streets around parliament with the aim of leaving a better world for our grandchildren. But when it comes to entering the world of environmentally friendly mobility, it is only the financial advantages that count. The Norwegian electric car association conducted a survey to establish why people opt for an electric model, and 48 percent of respondents cited the financial incentives as the main reason. The environment was however the principal reason for a respectable 27 percent. Without the financial benefits only 16 percent would opt for an electric model, and around half for a new or used conventional car. Banks and insurance companies are now also offering special programmes for electric vehicles, which further encourages their spread.
… free parking in public car parks.
One of the determining characteristics of Norwegian society is the desire to achieve and maintain harmony. In school no child is allowed to fall behind in learning achievement, and for most citizens a draw is always the best result. So a one-sided preference for electric vehicles is surprising, and in fact it has not been welcomed by all Norwegians. “Naturally electric vehicles are very popular by virtue of their financial advantages, therefore some contemporaries are envious. We have to live with this, however, for if we seek to reduce emissions, we need to introduce new technologies,” says environmental politician Jens Frohlich Holte. “Our view is quite simple: if you pollute you have to pay.” The Norwegian government is well aware that mobility needs cannot be met without automobiles. “As a sparsely populated country, we need the car,” says Holte, who does not own a car himself, places his trust in Oslo’s public transport system and welcomes the market launch of the electric Mercedes-Benz B-Class. “The more electric models that enter the market, the more the mood will improve.”
CHARGING INFRASTRUCTURE STEADILY BEING EXPANDED.
The Oslo city administration is showing how the desire to get along harmoniously and the need to manage traffic flows can be reconciled. To discourage commuters from parking in residential streets to avoid the high parking charges in the inner city, additional charging stations are being installed there. “We do not wish to coerce people, but at the end of the day the parking spaces will disappear,” says Portvik when explaining the campaign. Anybody blocking a charging station with a conventional car risks a fine amounting to € 67. Things become even more expensive if an electric car user wishes to use a blocked charging station, complains to the urban development agency and has the offender towed away. The cost then increases to at least € 375. There was a long debate on whether electric cars should be allowed to park at the charging points without recharging their batteries. In the end a Solomonic solution was found in the interests of harmony: they are allowed to, but all those involved were in agreement that the charging points must not necessarily be located in the city’s most popular car parks. This was amenable to all, and slightly relativised the preferential treatment. “For most people, environmental policies are negatively associated with prohibitions and regulations. In this case people have a choice, and with e-vehicles the whole thing becomes positive.”
Although many financial incentives will come under test when there are 50,000 electric vehicles on the roads, there is nothing to oppose continued support for electromobility. Especially since all parties are in agreement on the matter.
The energy source for electric automobiles also fits into this harmonious scenario. 98 percent of the power generated in Norway is hydroelectric power, therefore e-vehicles are CO2-neutral in operation. Even if all vehicles were to be electrically powered, only five percent of the hydroelectric power would be needed. The charging infrastructure is steadily being expanded. In addition to the almost 5000 conventional charging stations, 182 express-charging points (which are not free of charge) also make longer inter-urban journeys possible. 82 further express stations are planned.
In Norway electromobility has long ceased to be confined to the cities. E-vehicles can also be found out in the country, and the small island of Finnoy on the west coast outside Oslo has one of the highest per capita rates. “The people living there have realised that e-mobility is worthwhile. Especially as they pay nothing to cross to the mainland by ferry,” says Christina Bu, General Manager of the Norwegian electric vehicle association. At the same time “people want to see changes in the environment”. The e-motorists themselves are the best adverts for this. “People love their electric cars,” says Christina Bu, “and the imitation effect drives sales upwards. Everybody here now knows somebody who drives an electric model.” But “Norway alone is too small. We need imitators in the large markets.”
Harald Kröger, Vice President Electric/Electronic & e-Drive at Mercedes-Benz Cars