• Vikings surging ahead.

  • Vikings surging ahead.

    • 15. April 2015
    • E-Mobility
    • 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.

    Norway, of all countries – at first sight, hardly any country would seem less suitable for electric cars and electromobility than the home of the Vikings. The topography is demanding, and quickly drains the energy reserves of vehicle batteries on steep uphill gradients. The long, cold and dark winters present further challenges for the on-board technology. But perhaps it is precisely the genetic heritage of these once fearless conquerors that has impelled the Norwegians to encourage electromobility more than any nation worldwide. Nowhere are there more electric cars on the road per head of the population – the figure is 143 – and nowhere are electric cars more heavily subsidised so that drivers opt for clean mobility.

    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.

    The pioneers in the early days were a resilient bunch. The electric cars of the time offered little comfort and a short operating range, with charging stations few and far between. Apart from the two-seater Think and Buddy models produced in Norway, the choice consisted mainly of used French models. Charging cables could be seen hanging from third-storey windows, or extension leads snaked across the road to supply the cars with fresh energy. All this has changed completely nowadays. On the way into the centre of Oslo, the electric cars use the bus lanes to pass the queues lining up at the toll booths and do not need to pay the city toll (up to € 5). In the centre they can charge their batteries at no cost. The Norwegian capital with its 2.3 million inhabitants is one of Europe’s fastest-growing metropolitan areas – and has corresponding traffic problems. But nobody with an “EL” registration plate need fear incurring a fine when bypassing the toll booths. This provision alone has considerably increased the popularity of electric cars, much to the irritation of bus and taxi operators – but the city council is sticking to its guns.

    The pioneers in the early days were a resilient bunch.

    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.

    Galerie

    Their success is obvious on the roads of the major Norwegian cities. Cars with electric sockets are to be seen everywhere. Tesla saloons, highly exotic elsewhere, are almost a mass phenomenon here. In Oslo itself, electric car users meanwhile have problems in finding an unoccupied charging point, which means that in the spiritual home of electromobility, those rounding the block in search of one have to fear coming to a stop with empty batteries. “We have become victims of our own success,” laments Magne Storebö, an employee in the electric vehicle association, as he continues his search for a lifesaving connection in his car named Buddy. In fact there are around 900 charging stations along the roadsides in Oslo alone, and they can be used free of charge. And more of them are being added all the time. The city will also soon be opening two multi-storey car parks reserved exclusively for electric vehicles. The “Intelligent Traffic System” will also prove helpful when searching for an unoccupied station, as a display not only shows available stations but also suggests alternatives. “People who do not have to have their car in town can book their parking space outside the train station and their train ticket online from the car, says Sture Portvik as he describes this electronic service. “People want to be convinced that the new technology works without problems, then they go for it.”

    Galerie

    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.

    The conventional car is taken out of the garage at weekends.

    Electrically powered vehicles are practically exempt from taxes and fees, reducing the difference between conventional and electric models to zero. For example, the Mercedes-Benz B-Class with an internal combustion engine costs the equivalent of around € 31,700 – the electrically powered version only around € 30,000. The favourable customer price is due to an exemption granted by the fiscal authorities from the 25 percent VAT and the registration fee, which is made up of the vehicle weight, the CO2 and NOX emissions, the displacement and the engine output. In the case of plug-in hybrid models the weight of the battery is taken into consideration, so that these vehicles too are subsidised. The bus lanes are taboo for them, however, and the city toll must also be paid. Owners of electric cars only need to pay a so-called “hospital” fee amounting to € 430 each year. The other benefits they enjoy are free parking in public car parks, free charging at public charging stations and free travel on ferries, which are incidentally also to be gradually converted to electric operation.

    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.

    Galerie

    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.”

    NORWAY’S HISTORY OF ELECTROMOBILITY

    • 1989

      Supported by the internationally successful pop group Aha, environmental activist Frederic Hauge ventures out onto the kingdom’s highways in an electrically powered Italian compact car.
    • 1990

      The import tax on electric vehicles is suspended for a limited time.
    • 1994

      Twelve electric vehicles produced by PIVCO in Norway, later renamed Think, are used during the Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer.
    • 1995

      The annual vehicle tax is reduced.
    • 1996

      The import tax on electric vehicles is permanently abolished.
    • 1997

      Electric vehicles are exempted from road tolls.
    • 1998

      The Think is presented at the Brussels Motor Show as the first electric car developed in Norway.
    • 2001

      Value Added Tax on electric vehicles is abolished.
    • 2003

      Electric cars are permitted to use the bus lanes in the greater Oslo area, and also elsewhere from 2005.
    • 2008

      Oslo defines the programme for a charging infrastructure.
    • 2009

      The Norwegian government starts Transnova, an infrastructure programme for electric vehicles, and invests € 7 million. 1900 charging stations are constructed by 2011. More than 5600 are in operation now. The first Chademo express charging station is opened in the same year. The number has now increased to 182 and is still growing. There are currently more than 43,000 electric models on the roads of Norway.
    • 2015

      On 1 January the first electrically powered ferry goes into operation on the E39.

    Inductive Chargin in Norway

    Harald Kröger, who is responsible for the development of electrics, electronics and electric drive systems at Mercedes-Benz Cars, on the subject of inductive charging:

    “Norway is a trailblazer when it comes to electromobility. The country gives other nations a glimpse at the future of mobility: electric cars are a fact of day-to-day life. A charging infrastructure is already in place. A wide range of electric vehicles is available – they are no longer exotic, though of course the vast majority of vehicles continue to have an internal combustion engine. And because Norway relies completely on power from renewable sources, environmental compatibility is certain. Mercedes-Benz is contributing to the fact that electromobility is becoming part of normal day-to-day life. With its range of purely electrically powered vehicles and plug-in hybrids. But for example also with the inductive charging technology developed by us in-house, which is almost ready for series production and was presented in an S-Class S 500 PLUG-IN Hybrid test vehicle last year. Charging a vehicle battery could not be simpler: You merely park the vehicle over a charging plate positioned on the ground, and charging begins automatically. This is highly convenient, and also an incentive to charge the electric vehicle whenever you park it. The user does not need to connect a power cable between the vehicle and the charging point. At least for the electric car, the refuelling process is therefore a part of automotive history. And there is more: The Mercedes-Benz charging plate is absolutely weatherproof – it is unaffected by rain or snow. Back to Norway: Inductive charging is of course perfect for markets which already have a high proportion of electric cars. The new technology will help to further ensure that they become part of daily life. And in other countries it will smooth the way for even larger market shares.”
    Harald Kröger Vice President Elektrik/Elektronik & e-Drive bei Mercedes-Benz Cars
    Mercedes-Benz: Mr. Harald Kröger

    Harald Kröger, Vice President Electric/Electronic & e-Drive at Mercedes-Benz Cars

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