There’s no mystery why electric cars are so popular in Norway. To paraphrase an old saying, “It’s the incentives, stupid!” Norway exempts most plug-in hybrid and electric cars from sales tax and registration fees. That makes them price competitive with conventional cars. It also gives EV drivers access to commuter lanes, free parking in most cites, and exempts them from most ferry and bridge tolls. If you look at a map of Norway, you will instantly see it has a lot of ferries and bridges. Finally, Norway is aggressively expanding its charging infrastructure.
Inside EVs put all the numbers together for 2015 and found that combined sales of new and used plug-in hybrid and electric cars and trucks totaled more than 40,000 vehicles. Just looking at new cars, EVs accounted for nearly 30% of all new cars sold in Norway in 2015. It seems clear from the numbers that people are influenced more by economics than environmental concerns when it comes to buying an electric car. What that suggests is that many drivers are perfectly willing to drive electric — if the price is right.
The most popular electric car was the e-Golf, which accounted for more than half of all Golfs sold in Norway last year. Tesla was the second best selling electric car with the Nissan LEAF third. Sales of the LEAF fell off sharply at the end of the year, as buyers decided to wait for the new car with its longer range battery to become available. Plug-in car sales were up over 300% over 2014, after Norway decided to extend some incentives to plug-ins as well. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV led all plug-in car sales.
Incentves make a huge difference. In Sweden, which shares the same peninsular with Norway, the government is much less interested in promoting electric cars. As a result, sales of plug-ins and electric cars in Sweden are a small fraction of what they are in Norway.
How likely would the US be to provide such massive support for electric cars? We say we want more of them on the road, but are we willing to put our money where our mouth is? Georgia repealed its $5,000 tax credit for EVs last year. Since then, sales of plug-ins and electrics have plunged 90%, according to WBFO News. Tim Echols, a member of the state’s Public Service Commission, said the issue was about more than money. Rural farmers were displeased that their tax dollars were being given away to eggheads and hipsters in Atlanta’s trendy North End. As TIP O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.”
Norway has shown what it takes to get people into electric cars. But in the US, which is awash in cheap gasoline, the political will does not seem to exist to provide greater incentives. As a result, sales are holding steady at about 2% a year. By the time the nation gets behind the electric car movement, high tides will be lapping close to downtown Des Moines.