If you want to know what German roads might look like in ten years’ time, you should take a look. For years, the country has been at the forefront of switching from internal combustion engines to electric cars. Neither the long winters and their cold, nor fear of range or waiting at the charging station could stop the upswing: in 2020, for the first time, more than half, 54 percent to be precise, of all newly registered cars in Norway were pure electric cars. Including plug-in hybrids, it was even 75 percent. While they initially mainly operated in the more densely populated south and there primarily in the greater Oslo area, the electric boom has now spread to the entire country. What does this mean for car manufacturers, charging infrastructure and consumers? Other countries where, like in Germany, electromobility is only just picking up speed, can learn a lot from the experience of the Norwegians.
In December 2020 alone, 13,718 new electric cars were registered in Norway, almost twice as many as in November. The market share of electric cars in new car registrations was exactly two thirds (66.7 percent). Unlike in Germany, where around every second new e-car has an additional combustion engine (plug-in hybrid), the Norwegians mainly buy pure e-cars: more than twice as many pure e-cars as hybrids were given in 2020 for the first time a Norwegian license plate.
Christina Bu, head of the Norwegian e-car association Norsk Elbilforingen with 85,000 members, does not believe that the boom in her country can still be reversed: “That can now be ruled out. 2018 was a record year, 2019 again, 2020 another record year, and December 2020 was a record month within the record years, ”she explains.
Undoubtedly, a large part of the Norwegian electric boom can be traced back to the lavish purchase premiums. Unlike California or many Chinese provinces, for example, which usually cut back their often lavish e-car incentives just as quickly when certain targets have been reached in order to manage the market ramp-up, Norway is constantly giving full throttle. By 2025, all newly registered cars should be emission-free, according to the goal of the government in Oslo. One of the most important buying incentives is the elimination of VAT. Above all, high-priced e-cars such as the S and X models or the eTron benefit from this. In Norway, the value added tax is 25 percent, on luxury cars an additional luxury tax of up to 45 percent is due, depending on the weight and performance of the combustion car; Both are omitted in purely electric cars. “In fact, you get an electric luxury car like a Model S or the eTron for the price of a mid-range diesel,” says Bu.
In addition to the luxury tax and VAT, e-cars and fuel cell cars also eliminate the costs of the many toll bridges and tunnels in Norway, many cities waive city tolls and parking fees, tickets for ferries and the tax on company cars are 50 to 60 percent reduced. E-cars are allowed to use the bus lanes in the cities.
In addition to the positive purchase incentives, the government is also relying on clear bans: For example, in the greater Oslo area, from 2023 onwards, no cars with internal combustion engines may be allowed as taxis. State vehicle fleets even have to be purely electric a year earlier. New buildings must have the appropriate power connections. Tenants can even sue for a charging station in their house in Norway.
Such practical incentives go a long way in Norway. In a village in Northern Norway, for example, the e-car quota suddenly shot up from almost zero to 50 percent when the toll operator waived the tunnel toll for electric vehicles; the village is located exactly behind the tunnel and can only be reached via immense detours without it.
According to surveys, 94 percent of e-car drivers in Norway would no longer buy any other car. “Hardly any of the remaining six percent want to go back to the combustion engine; Instead, some are considering not buying a private car at all, ”says Bu. And they carry this attitude further: 66 percent of Norwegians said in a survey in the summer that they had already encouraged an acquaintance, colleague, neighbor or family member to buy an electric car for the first time. Bu suspects “first-hand experience” is probably the most important driver of mass market adaptation. “This is not a substitute for a funding program or an advertising campaign,” she says.
Further findings from regular surveys: “Only people who do not use it themselves and hardly know about it, talk about supposed problems.” In contrast, the debate among e-car users focuses on “rather small-scale, practical everyday problems,” says Bu. For example charging stations that the car’s navigation system displays, but which cannot be activated. Or diesel and gasoline-powered vehicles that accidentally park vacant loading spaces – a nuisance that, according to anecdotal reports, seems to be increasing in Germany as well.
The ideologically heated fundamental debate about whether electric cars are the best car solution to the climate problem, on the other hand, hardly exists in Norway. “Norwegians have been used to electrification of areas of life that were previously largely fossil fueled since the 1990s,” says Bu. Most households now heat electrically with heat pumps and infrared heaters. Thanks to the intensive use of hydropower, Norway also has one of the lowest CO2 electricity mixes in the world, so that “even for laypeople it is clear that there are hardly any indirect CO2 emissions from electric cars,” says Stina Johansen from the Scandinavian electricity exchange Nord Pool in Oslo , who cannot share concerns about network overload: If there were only new registrations for e-cars in ten years, around 1.5 million pure e-cars would be driving in Norway. These would have a combined electricity requirement of four terawatt hours (TWh) per year. The country’s total requirement is 130 TWh. So just 3.1 percent. “By and large, this additional requirement is not a problem for the network,” says Johansen.
The German manufacturers are also lagging behind the technology leader Tesla in terms of sales figures in most markets. But the view of Norway should cheer you up. The best-selling model in Norway in 2020 was the Audi eTron with over 9,000 units, followed by Tesla’s Model 3 and the ID3, each with around 7700. Behind, clearly lagging behind, some Asian models such as the Leaf and the Hyndai Kona e.
Thilo Bubek has lived in the far north of Norway for more than 15 years. The engineer works in the computer science department at the Arctic University of Tromsö and has been driving a Tesla every day for a good five years. “That also works in Northern Norway without any problems,” says the native Swabian. Bubek is just as unafraid of temperatures of minus 30 degrees as snow-covered roads. When he decided to switch to a purely electric car in 2015, “a Tesla Model S was the only option suitable for everyday use here in the north, but this is no longer the case,” says Bubek.
In Germany, Audi bought some of the sales records for its electric E-Tron 2020 with extremely lean leasing conditions. In Norway they didn’t play a role, says functionary Bu. “Leasing is generally less widespread in Norway.” Overall, only one in nine cars is leased in Norway, and less than five percent for pure e-cars.
Tesla driver Bubek has his own explanations for the recent successes of and Audi. On the one hand, it is normal that not everyone who switches to an electric car can be enthusiastic about the products of a single manufacturer at the same time, says Bubek. “In the eighth year after its market launch, the Tesla Model S is still technically up-to-date and even leading in many areas,” he says, “but Tesla also has weaknesses that one or the other Norwegians can get into their hands German manufacturers are likely to drive. ”Tesla has significant problems with service. You often wait weeks for spare parts or appointments for a repair. “It’s faster at Audi, and not everyone who depends on their car in sparsely populated northern or central Norway has the necessary patience.”
Tesla, whose service was “outstanding and familiar” in the first few years, has annoyed many customers since the introduction of its mass market Model 3, says Bubek. Poor workmanship, especially when it comes to paint, is a constant topic in forums and canteen discussions. “Even if 90 percent of Tesla customers are probably satisfied: Norway is a small country. Practically everyone knows someone who drives a Tesla. Anger stories get around very quickly and a few hundred people with deficiencies who publicly vent their displeasure are enough to chase away buyers. ”Word of mouth also has a negative effect.
High purchase premiums, more choice of models and manufacturers – for expert Bu, the charging infrastructure is the most important factor if a country is to switch completely from combustion to electric motors. “A lot has happened again in the past two years, especially in the northern, rural regions,” she says. So far it has been quite thin there. In Finnmark, for example, the northernmost region with only 80,000 inhabitants in an area like the whole of Denmark, there were no fast DC chargers at all for cross-country trips until 2019.
Although only nine percent of Norwegians regularly use such fast chargers on the motorway, the vast majority of them charge their cars at home or at work. “But charging infrastructure operators and politicians have realized that these nine percent are decisive.” There are now 3300 fast chargers (as of the end of 2020) in the country, 850 more than a year ago. In 2015 there was mathematically one fast charging station in Norway for every 160 e-cars. At the end of 2020 it was already one per 104, although the number of cars had increased six-fold compared to 2015.
The Norwegians have not only changed the number, but also the nature of the charging stations based on the experience from 2010 to 2019: In the past, the main focus was on covering the largest possible regions with as few columns as possible. “Redundancies are now being provided,” says Bu. “In the past, there were usually two or four charging stations per location, and sometimes only one charging station in remote regions. Today, new charging parks always have 8, often 16 or even 24 columns. “Reports of long waiting times or failed columns spread like wildfire and deter many potential switchers,” says Bu. “And the costs for the redundancies are kept within reasonable limits, because the most expensive thing is the connection of the charging location to the medium voltage; one or two more pillars don’t really matter. “
The successes prove her right: 47 percent of Norwegians recently stated in national, representative surveys that they had waited more than three minutes at a charging station once or more in the past year. In 2019 that was 64 percent. Private driver Bubek also noticed the shift in strategy: “It has become much better, personally I actually never wait at a fast charging station anymore.” And Bubek often drives over 3400 kilometers from Tromsö in northern Norway when he visits friends and relatives in southern Germany.
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Bubek noticed something else: “In the past there were free chargers in every public building and in many supermarkets, but they mostly only delivered 11 kilowatts (kW) of electricity and were correspondingly slow,” says Bubek. He noticed that these pillars are still the most widespread in Germany. In Norway, on the other hand, they are being dismantled more and more often and replaced with faster, but then chargeable offers. The right way for Bubek: “It doesn’t do any good if it doesn’t cost anything but just takes too long,” he says. “In addition, free offers always tempt abuse, in other words: the neighbors block these columns, although they could probably charge 500 meters further in their own garage.”