Why Ireland should follow Norway’s lead on electric cars

Oil-rich nation sets the standard for promoting eco-motoring in Europe

Norway seems a land of contradictions. An oil-rich nation that embraces green energy. It boasts a multi-billion cash pile to match many Arab emirates, yet unlike these bastions of heartless capitalism, Norway embraces liberal social democratic tenets. The home of gripping crime drama from the likes of Jo Nesbo, a 168-hour documentary on reindeer migration is currently the big TV hit.

Norway has made hundreds of billions of euros feeding our oil addiction since the 1960s. Yet it's amongst the most eco-conscious energy users in Europe.

And they have embraced the electric car. After California this is the biggest single market for electric cars on the planet. According to officials from the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association – a powerful lobby group on the go for more than 20 years – in 2017 150,000 plug-in cars are on Norwegian roads, out of a total car stock of just over 2.4 million. More than 100,000 of them are solely battery-powered, the rest plug-in hybrids. Some 35 per cent of all new cars sold come with a plug.

If you want a vision of the future of transport, Oslo is a good place to start. Here the Tesla is as common as Toyotas back in Ireland. Even the silly electric Citroen C-Zero of a few years back found a few suckers with more money than sense.


Tax incentives

Norway’s government has made some bold commitments to an electric future. First it exempted electric cars from the usual purchase tax and VAT normally applied to vehicles. Then it added incentives such as the right to use bus lanes, and lifted motor tax on these vehicles. All this is to meet a target that by 2025 only electric vehicles will be permitted for sale in the Nordic State.

Yet the electric car embrace is not some oil dealer’s act of contrition. Even the socially conscious Norwegians know the value of a krone. Thanks to incentives, these cars make economic sense.

Hardly surprising therefore that car firms are flocking to Oslo. And now, with cars such as Opel’s new Ampera-e offering real-life ranges of 400km between charges, it’s no longer the preserve of eco-warriors.

With range anxiety addressed, the next big hurdle for electric cars is price. Industry experts operate under a rule of thumb for battery costs: $200 per kw/h. Buyers are looking for ranges of 400km or more so that means a 60kw/h battery pack adds roughly $12,000 to the price of the car over a regular version. That is partly offset for owners by cheaper running costs as electricity is cheaper per 100km driven than either petrol or diesel.

Yet to reduce the upfront costs and make electric cars viable, engineers need to work hard to reduce costs and governments need to reduce this difference with incentives. Without them engineers working in this field say the future for electric cars will remain stalled. Even with them the experts predict electric-car usage of less than 25 per cent by 2025. To improve the figures will require incentives and regulations, such as city bans on combustion engine vehicles currently under debate.

The benefit for society is cleaner air. The Norwegians are prepared to make the short-term financial incentives for the longer term health and environmental benefits. Would an Irish Government be prepared to do the same?

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer is Motoring Editor, Innovation Editor and an Assistant Business Editor at The Irish Times