Why Duplicating Norway’s EV Success Won't Happen in U.S.

By · May 09, 2013

Nissan Leaf in Norway />

Incentives in Norway have helped electric cars to become popular there.

Norwegians just can’t get enough of electric cars. With parking lots full of electric car charging stations, exemption from sales tax and even the ability to drive in bus lanes, it’s hardly surprising that electric cars make up a relatively large proportion of new car sales in the Nordic nation. The Nissan LEAF became the country’s second best-selling car during the month of April, second only to the Volkswagen Golf.

While Norway’s best practices can teach governments worldwide a lot about how to encourage their citizens to make the switch to electric, simply duplicating Norway’s EV success would be tough in the U.S. Here’s why.

Political Structure

Unlike the U.S., where a federal system of national, state, county and local government exists, Norway skips the state level, making it far less complicated to pass nationwide legislation in favor of electric cars.

While the U.S. has the power to regulate intrastate commerce and transport, passing measures similar to Norway’s through both houses—especially in today's dysfunctional political environment—would be a fraught and tense process, caused in part by the individual agendas of factions and states.

Economics

Consumers in Norway pay more than $10 per gallon of gasoline, while all new cars—with the exemption of plug-in vehicles—attract a sales tax proportional to their emissions. At its most extreme, that equates to paying 100 percent sales tax on a new gas-guzzling SUV.

In the U.S., inefficient gas-guzzling cars are much cheaper to buy, disincentivizing people from switching to electric.

While current federal and state purchase incentives help push some drivers towards EV ownership, they are not as effective as Norway’s high gasoline and vehicle purchase taxes combined with big EV incentives, like free bus-lane use and parking.

Given how difficult it is for the current administration to pass any new bills—not to mention the very public bankruptcy of government loan recipient Fisker Automotive and failed companies—we’re unlikely to see any measures aiming to increase the cost of gasoline, or any new car purchase tax in the interest of promoting EVs any time soon. Pro-EV lobbyists tell us that we should be grateful for the current incentives in place.

Physical Size, Population Density

While Norway has a total area of 148,720 square miles—slightly bigger than the state of Montana—more than half its 5 million inhabitants live in the densely-populated south-eastern part of Norway, in and around its capital city, Oslo.

With such a large concentration of its inhabitants in a small geographic area, Norway has been able to invest in similarly dense electric vehicle recharging infrastructure, ensuring an abundance of electric vehicle recharging stations.

Any Hope?

While Norway’s approach to promoting EVs wouldn’t work in the whole of the U.S., adoption of some of its incentives in key states like California, Washington, Portland and New York could be effective. After all, if a country the size of Montana could do it, smaller states with higher population densities could follow their lead.

Here's the tough question: What would it take to change the fundamental conditions that prevent the U.S. from achieving Norway's success with EVs? Or are we forever locked into structural conditions—political, economic and geographic—that result in status quo for internal combustion.

New to EVs? Start here

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