New milestone for Norway’s pace-setting on EVs

For the first time more electric and hybrid vehicles are being sold in Norway than petrol and diesel vehicles. The new milestone in the rapid growth of EVs is largely the result of incentives offered by the Norwegian government in a bid to phase out sales of new oil-powered cars by 2025.

The latest figures show that new battery-powered EVs made up 17.6% of total sales in January. With hybrid cars making up 33.8%, that makes a combined total of 51.4%. Although the totals dropped in February, overall sales for the first two months of the year were split almost exactly 50:50.

The measures to encourage people in Norway to buy EV and hybrid cars include tax incentives, privileged parking in municipal car parks, exemptions from charges on toll-roads and ferries, and access to bus lanes. The country has also invested heavily in charging infrastructure, which is likely to continue as the government has set a target of one charging station for every 10 vehicles by 2020.

As a result, more than 100,000 EVs had been sold by December in a country of just 5.2 million inhabitants. Taking EVs and hybrids together, Norway has around 500,000, second only to China and making it by far the global leader in terms of low or zero-emission vehicles per citizen. Some 98% of Norway’s electricity comes from hydropower.

The country has set itself a target for new cars of 85 grammes of CO2 per kilometer by 2020; it is currently at 88g, down from 133g when the decision was taken in 2012.

Commenting on the January sales figures, Norway’s climate and environment minister, Vidar Helgesen, said: ‘This is a milestone on Norway’s road to an electric car fleet, and it serves to showcase that green transport policies work.’

As well as tax breaks, the growth in EVs and hybrids is also the result of advances in EV technology. An official from the European Environment Agency told the Guardian: ‘People aren’t just using EVs as hobby cars for city shopping any more, they’re switching to full e-mobility because it’s possible now.’

The growth in EV sales prompted Norway to consider banning all new petrol and diesel cars by 2025. The government has confirmed that the elimination of new fossil-fuel cars by 2025 is a target though it won’t ban the vehicles outright. It wants to reach the goal through ‘a strengthened green tax system based on the polluter pays principle’, it said in a statement, suggesting that, while some of the incentives will not be able to last forever, a move away from tax breaks and special treatment is not imminent.

If the target is to be reached, it will require a massive surge in both EVs and charging stations. At the end of 2015, Norway had just 1,400 charging stations, whereas by 2020 it expects to have 25,000. All this in the country that is Europe's biggest oil producer.

Meanwhile, last week Beijing announced it was joining two other Chinese cities, Shenzhen and Taiyuan, in converting its entire taxi fleet to EVs. China’s motivation for encouraging electric propulsion is based on improving air quality and reducing dependence on imported oil, and it sends a signal to the world’s carmakers that they have to go electric if they want any presence in the Chinese market. China remains the world’s largest electric vehicle market, with twice as many EVs than Europe and nearly four times the number in America.