Traveling through Scandinavia is like visiting the future in many ways. Okay, it’s a future with a lot more open space and a lot less cultural diversity than what the real future has, but going through Norway is an interesting journey all the same. As you wander around Oslo, you will be captivated at every turn by stunning architecture and sculptures that not only highlight public squares, but grow out of the sea itself in unexpected places.
But being the transportation nerd that I am, it was the means of mobility that really struck a chord with me. For one thing, bikes, cars and scooters seem to coexist more peacefully in Oslo than anywhere else on the planet. Buses are easy to navigate, with tickets purchased from your phone in no time, avoiding awkward exchanges with drivers.
And then there are EVs. So. Many. EV. An amazing amount of things decorate the roads in Norway, which constantly surprises and delights me, even though this is my third trip to the city. Even in the last few years, battery motoring has really become mainstream in Norway.
How mainstream? This March, 16,238 passenger cars were registered in Norway. Of these, 13,983 were battery-powered electric cars. That’s an amazing 86% of all cars registered that month. Meanwhile, in the US, sales of plug-in light commercial vehicles (including hybrids) made up just 5.85% of the market in March, according to Argonne National Laboratory. That was almost a 40% increase from the previous year, but still in the single digits.
Why the difference? Is Norway just a utopia for prospective EV enthusiasts? Inaccurately. Where US state and federal governments have engaged in haphazard picking of half-asses,The Norwegian government, which has been tossing the middle collection of carrots here and there over the years, has instead chosen the biggest of the whips: taxes. Want to buy a gas machine? Be prepared for a painful wound.
Norwegians are expected to pay 25% value added tax, or VAT, on every purchase. This includes cars, which are also traditionally subject to additional import taxes and the like. I say “traditionally” because EVs have been exempt from these taxes for decades. How will it shake out? Consider the BMW 320d sedan with a 190-horsepower diesel engine. According to the Norwegian BMW website, this car costs 418,531 crowns without options, i.e. 43,258 dollars. However, to actually take that car home, you’re looking at a whopping 677,307 crowns after taxes, or $70,005.
Compare it with, a much more powerful and frankly better-looking 536bhp machine. It starts at 600,220 crowns, i.e. 62,037 dollars. And that’s it, that’s your outdoor price. $8,000 saved for a much more attractive car – and that’s before factoring in the more than $8 a gallon Norwegians pay for gas. Remember, they also pay more for electricity.
To get a better picture of the Norwegian EV lifestyle, I spoke with Maiken Økland, Communications Manager at Zaptec, a leading manufacturer of electric car chargers based in Norway. Økland told me that the average Norwegian pays 1.88 kroner per kilowatt hour, or about 20 cents. That’s significantly more than the roughly 14 cents Americans spend, and it’s the subject of “extensive political debate,” Økland said. “Still, it’s cheaper to charge your car from home than to fill up at a gas station.”
But what about charging on the road? How has Norway’s infrastructure grown to handle this massive influx of plug-hungry cars? To get a taste of the networks, I took a road trip that took me from Norway’s east coast to its west coast, stopping at electric car chargers to see if the country’s infrastructure could handle it.
Having originally planned to make this journey in an EV alone, I decided to hedge my bets and go with a plug-in hybrid instead. I wanted to keep things as local as possible, so the choice was easy. Volvo kindly lent me anon a trip. It turned out to be the perfect companion: Big enough to be comfortable, yet small enough to fit into dirty parking spaces in Norway. It offers about 35 miles of range on a single charge and has a plug to give it a taste of Level 2 chargers, but for many high-mileage days, the large fuel tank meant a worry-free trip. That said, when gas stops costing well over $100, even though I’ve never let the tank get more than three-quarters full, I’ve definitely paid for the privilege.
Having some kind of electrified car, whether a PHEV or a fully charged EV, also proved quite beneficial given the tumultuous nature of Norway’s highways and roads. For example, on a short, steep, twisty descent down Norway’s famous Trollstigen, or “Troll Road,” instead of revving the engine or smoking the brakes, the regeneration on the XC60 netted me about 8 emissions-free miles. motoring.
I used a pair of Birkenstocks to explore some of the larger charging points in Oslo before going troll hunting in the Volvo. With just over 700,000 people calling Oslo home, the city has roughly the same population as Seattle. There were dozens of high-speed chargers within walking distance of Oslo Central Station, so I picked three larger spots and went for a wander.
Despite losing count of the number of new EVs I’ve seen driving around, including things as rare as hen’s teeth here in the US, likeand even a , all the chargers I visited had enough capacity. One, a charging station near beautiful Frogner Park, had 10 Level 3 combo stations offering CCS and CHAdeMO connectors, with six in use. Another 16 level 2 chargers were set up for less demanding charging, all empty.
From there I headed south to Oslo Bysykkel, a bike sharing station surrounded by amazing street art. Here, another eight combined Level 3 chargers offered speeds of up to 150 kilowatts, and about half that was available, with another dozen Level 2 chargers. Only a few were occupied by stray Teslas that had taken a few miles while their owners presumably strolled along the boardwalk.
Intrigued, I hopped into the Volvo and headed out of town to properly begin my Norwegian adventure. Over the next two weeks, I explored dozens of charger locations and Superchargers throughout southern Norway. Here are my anecdotal findings.
The vast majority of chargers I saw were either next to large gas stations or in shopping center parking lots. So not too dissimilar to what we see here in the US. Interestingly, however, Superchargers were often directly adjacent to chargers from other networks, such as Recharge or Ionity. It’s rare in the US to see the networks mesh like this, but once again Norway was one of the first countries to be added to the Supercharger pilot program without Tesla, so perhaps this kind of location sharing shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Availability and reliability
In short, I have never seen a charging station that was charged. One was close, a combination Supercharger and Eviny charging station in Lillehammer. Here I counted 20 Superchargers, half of which were available, while only two of Evina’s 17 chargers were unoccupied. Despite the rush, however, chargers were still available. And since the Evins offered up to 200 kW, decent speeds were also prepared. Further out in the wilderness between the fjords I was constantly surprised to come across large rows of chargers, many unoccupied.
Testing the reliability of these chargers is a difficult thing for an individual to say the least – so a grain of salt please – but I will say that I haven’t seen any of the confused, frowning, angry faces that you have. Here in the US, charging stands are often frowned upon. All the units I examined were humming nicely, which is supported by the Zaptec data. Økland told me they have 99.8% availability of their chargers in Europe.
This is where things get a little worrisome. As I mentioned above, charging at home is about 40% more expensive in Norway than here in the US, but it’s still a significant savings over Target chargers. The most expensive seemed to be Ionity, the European cousin of our own Electrify America network. Norwegians pay NOK 8.40 per kWh for Ionity, i.e. about 87 cents. That’s double what you or I would pay for an EA charger in the States.
Prohibited expensive? Yes, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Most of the major European manufacturers offer subscriptions that significantly reduce costs. However, to really save some money, most Norwegians only charge at home. According to Zaptec’s Maiken Økland, installing a charger in a modern Norwegian home typically costs just 6,500 crowns, or about $675.
If you’re one of the lucky few who’s tried to tow anything with an EV here in the US, you know that chargers really aren’t set up for that. Most of the time you’re left with the decision of whether to put away your travel trailer first, or ruin everyone else’s day by blocking an entire bank of chargers. Most of the chargers in Norway were configured similarly, but I saw only a few that offered space for tow vehicles to pull straight through. More of these please.
So doom and gloom and overloaded charging infrastructure? Hardly. Norway’s public grids seem to have kept pace with the massive EV boom, which is an enviable situation compared to the current state of affairs in the US.
But the situation will be even more interesting. Next year, Norway is set to restore part of the VAT on some electric vehicles with a rate based on the price of the vehicle. Cars worth more than 600,000 crowns (about 60,000 USD) will pay a flat fee of 25,000 crowns (2,582 USD). Spend more than 1,000,000 crowns (about 100,000 USD) and you’ll pay 12.5%. That’s still significantly less than the traditional 25% VAT, but will it be enough to dampen EV enthusiasm in Norway?
Økland says Norwegians are enthusiastic about electric cars regardless of subsidies, especially when more cars are available at higher prices, even on the used car market. “Electric cars have become the new normal,” he said, “and if you bought a new fossil-fueled car today, people would ask the big question: Why?”