Lane when it comes to elec­tric cars

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - NEW CARS -

tives. EVs are ex­empt from car-pur­chase taxes and the 25% sales tax levied on just about ev­ery­thing else, and they get a break on an­nual fees.

Driv­ers plug in for free at mu­nic­i­pal power points, gen­er­ally don’t pay tolls, and can use bus lanes to avoid traf­fic. On fer­ries across Nor­way’s deep fjords, electrics travel at no cost. It’s no sur­prise, then, that Nor­we­gians call ga­so­line-pow­ered ve­hi­cles fos­sil­biler — fos­sil cars.

The sub­si­dies were in­tro­duced in the 1990s to sup­port a fledg­ling, and never par­tic­u­larly suc­cess­ful, do­mes­tic elec­tric ve­hi­cle in­dus­try.

“There was hardly any­thing to buy,” so few peo­ple took ad­van­tage of the perks, says Christina Bu of the Nor­we­gian EV As­so­ci­a­tion, a con­sumer group with 40,000 mem­bers.

The in­cen­tives were still on the books when the first truly com­pet­i­tive op­tions, the Nis­san Leaf and the Tesla Model S, were in­tro­duced about five years ago. Sud­denly, “the mar­ket ex­panded be­fore politi­cians re­al­ized what was go­ing on,” Bu says.

Nor­way’s plug- in leader per capita of in­hab­i­tants is the mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Fin­noy, where 281 cars out of a to­tal of 1,508 — or 19% — are fully elec­tric, com­pared with 4% na­tion­ally.

Bat­tery of in­cen­tives

One big rea­son: Bat­tery­pow­ered cars don’t pay the $18 toll for the tun­nel lead­ing to the town. Early on, many Nor­we­gians con­sid­ered electrics only as a sec­ond car and kept a con­ven­tional ve­hi­cle for long- dis­tance driv­ing, says Pier­ril Pouret, who leads Nis­san Mo­tor Co.’s plug-in busi­ness in the Nordic re­gion. But as ranges im­prove, “we’re ar­riv­ing at the mo­ment when the ma­jor­ity of the mar­ket is about to shift to EVs,” he says.

Of course, be­fore politi­cians else­where seek to em­u­late Nor­way, they should con­sider its spe­cial cir­cum­stances. Most im­por­tant: the elec­tric­ity.

In much of the world, more power means more coal, but Nor­way’s dra­matic land­scape pro­vides as much cheap hy­dro­elec­tric­ity as its small pop­u­la­tion needs, so plug- ins don’t strain the grid.

There’s a prob­lem at the heart of the whole en­deav­our: If the rest of the world copied the coun­try over- night, the Nor­we­gians would be out of busi­ness.

Nor­way is West­ern Europe’s largest oil and gas ex­porter, and the rev­enue lost from tax breaks on Tes­las is dwarfed by the €15 bil­lion­plus the gov­ern­ment re­ceives an­nu­ally from the coun­try’s en­ergy sales.

Even as Nor­way tries to re­duce emis­sions on the road, state- con­trolled Sta­toil ASA is ex­pand­ing oil ex­plo­ration, push­ing far­ther into the Arc­tic Sea. “We have a very hyp­o­crit­i­cal pol­icy,” says Daniel Rees, an ad­viser on trans­porta­tion and the en­vi­ron­ment for the op­po­si­tion Green Party.

“The gov­ern­ment is try­ing to cre­ate this im­age that we are a leader in sav­ing the world from cli­mate change, when we are ac­tu­ally one of the main con­trib­u­tors to it.”

The man who is in charge of Nor­way’s EV poli­cies has ar­gued there’s no con­tra­dic­tion be­tween drilling for oil with one hand and plug­ging in cars with the other.

“Yes, we made a lot of money on oil, but we know there are down­sides to the prod­uct, and we try to take the world to the next level,” says Trans­port Min­is­ter Ketil Solvik-Olsen.

A mem­ber of the lib­er­tar­ian-lean­ing Progress Party, Solvik- Olsen is a car guy: Ev­ery spare sur­face in his Oslo of­fice is cov­ered with toy Chevro­lets, Fer­raris, and Mercedes-Ben­zes, while he him­self is driv­ing a 1985 Cadil­lac Seville.

Yet he con­cedes the end of the petrol era is nigh. “It’s not like the world is not go­ing to need oil in 10 years, but maybe you’re not go­ing to use it for trans­porta­tion,” he says.

Lately, Nor­we­gian of­fi­cials have be­gun curb­ing the in­cen­tives. With 17,000 EVs in Oslo alone, blan­ket ex­emp­tions from tolls and carte blanche ac­cess to bus lanes can seem a lit­tle ex­ces­sive. Op­po­si­tion politi­cians have sug­gested cap­ping the tax re­lief avail­able for plug-in pur­chases so the sub­si­dies cover a smaller slice of the sticker price for, say, high-end Tes­las.

And the cen­tral gov­ern­ment in the past year has started giv­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties the op­tion of wa­ter­ing down some of the ad­van­tages. Solvik- Olsen says most of the in­cen­tives will dis­ap­pear once they’ve done their job.

“We may have to do this for three, four, five more years,” he says, “but from then on, the mar­ket will be in place.”

Paudie Done­gan and Ken Hor­gan, at Lexus Cork’s fore­court at Air­port Road, Cork, show­cas­ing the stun­ning Lexus IS 300h.

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