Why Norway leads the world for electric cars - and what the UK can learn

·2-min read
Norway vs UK illustration
Norway vs UK illustration

While the UK considers slashing subsidies, few countries' leaders would dare to bring in the sort of taxes on car purchases that have put Norway on track to comfortably beat its target of all new cars being electric by 2025.

Norway has for decades imposed vehicle registration taxes on new cars, most on the ones with the highest emissions, with some vehicles paying tens of thousands of pounds in charges, and fully electric vehicles exempt since the 1990s.

That meant that when the mass production Tesla S came out nearly in 2012, it did not look that prohibitively expensive for Norwegians, with Elon Musk's breakthrough vehicle becoming the best-selling car on the market as early as 2013.

So far this year, more than 60 percent of new car sales in Norway have been fully electric, and over 80 percent when including plug-in hybrids which are partly battery-driven.

In August, for the first time, more than half of new car sales were fully electric in every county in Norway, including the far north where drivers face long distances, less frequent charging points and cold temperatures.

"Other countries can't do the same as Norway, because it's not politically feasible to introduce the same levels of taxes overnight," admits Christina Bu, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Electric Car Association.

"But they can do something similar, and the right way to do it is to start taxing the sale of the most polluting cars, and use that money to subsidise fully electric cars."

Electric car drivers in Norway have enjoyed a host of other advantages: reduced payments for the tolls that fund the bridges and tunnels that enable easy travel over and under its mountains and fjords, the right to use bus lanes, and an exemption from both the annual road tax and from VAT.

The subsidies were brought in to support Think Global, the 1990s Norwegian electric vehicle start-up, which ceased production for the last time in 2012.

Norway's government has in recent years been withdrawing some of the incentives as electric cars start to dominate, but Ms Bu argues that the tax exemptions and the differential "Bonus-Malus" tax on carbon emissions, which will stay, have anyway been the most important driver.

"The most important thing has been that you can choose an EV (electric vehicle) without it costing a lot more," she said.

"You can't really expect a regular person to pay thousands of pounds extra for a car they're a bit unsure of. It's all about getting people into the cars to try them. Because when they do, they never want to go back."

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