Norway Takes The Lead In Electric Cars (With Generous Subsidies) : Parallels Next month Norway is expected to become the first country where 1 percent of the cars are electric. Most Norwegians are supportive, but it's taken large financial incentives to reach this level.

Norway Takes The Lead In Electric Cars (With Generous Subsidies)

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. 2014 is shaping up to be a big year for electric cars. Automakers are releasing a slew of new models. One analyst predicts global production will more than double. Here in the U.S., electric cars are still a really tiny portion of the market. The country in the lead is Norway. Within a few months, one out of every 100 cars on the road there will be electric. Sidsel Overgaard explains why.

SIDSEL OVERGAARD, BYLINE: It all started years ago with people like Jonette Oyen.

JONETTE OYEN: Oh, this is my blue car, electric car waiting for me.

OVERGAARD: Oyen, who is just getting off work at the national archives, has agreed to take me for a spin in her Nissan Leaf.

OYEN: It's been sitting here all day in the snow, but it has been charging so it's going to be full.

OVERGAARD: With that, she unplugs, starts up the car and we're off.

This is actually Oyen's second electric car. She bought her first one almost 10 years ago, hoping to help drive what she calls a conservative car industry away from fossil fuel.

OYEN: I really think the future is electric cars and I think it's the right thing to push that and to push the technology and the development and the - of course, we are lucky in Norway because we have a lot of water electricity.

OVERGAARD: That is hydropower, which accounts for 99 percent of Norway's power production. Oyen admits it's also been fun to have a car that turns heads, although that doesn't happen so much anymore. As we drive, it's soon clear why.

OYEN: That's a small electric car. That one's the Buddy and one of the earlier small ones. There's the Think, the black one there. That's a Tesla right there. That's a Leaf coming there.

OVERGAARD: Just four of the nearly 25,000 electric cars now populating Norway's roads. Oyen's motive maybe mostly environmental, but there are lots of benefits to owning an electric car in Norway, especially if you're stuck in traffic.

OYEN: I can decide that I don't want to be in this queue and I can just go here instead.

OVERGAARD: Here is the bus lane and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

SNORRE SLETVOLD: You can drive in the bus lane. You can park for free, charge for free.

OVERGAARD: Snorre Sletvold heads Norway's Electric Car Association.

SLETVOLD: You can also take the car with you at the ferry for free. You can pass the toll for free and when you buy the car, you don't pay any tax.

OVERGAARD: That last point is huge since the Norwegian tax on cars is one of the world's highest. Taking the whole package into account, one economist has figured that Norway subsidizes each Nissan Leaf to the tune of $8,000 per year. Luxury cars like the Tesla Model S cost the government even more and that, says Sletvold, is what has launched most EV owners into the market. That and good old word of mouth.

SLETVOLD: That's true. I buy the car and my neighbor has buy the car and some of our board member in the street he live, I think the half of the household now has an EV.

KETIL SOLVIK-OLSEN: Every other car have an electric car, you do have a trouble for the utility company in the afternoon when everybody get home from work and plug it in.

OVERGAARD: That's Norway's Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen. He says already there are parts of Oslo where power lines need to be upgraded, thanks to the popularity of EVs and transit companies are starting to complain about the number of electric cars clogging up the bus lanes. Solvik-Olsen says years ago, Norway's parliament decided the current tax incentives would expire once there were 50,000 electric cars on the road. At the time, that seemed incredible ambitious.

SOLVIK-OLSEN: When the only cars, electric cars, you could buy were tiny, kind of plastic cars seating two people, where you would freeze to death during wintertime. Not a lot of people would buy them.

OVERGAARD: Now that that's no longer the case, he says, it might be time to reevaluate.

SOLVIK-OLSEN: When the world changes, you should also update your policies and that's what I think we have to do.

OVERGAARD: No one, including Solvik-Olsen, seems to think the incentives will go away entirely. But a decision about what happens next is right around the corner. At the rate things are going, that 50,000 target could be hit by next year. For NPR News, I'm Sidsel Overgaard.

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