Norway is so far ahead in its adoption of electric cars, that Volkswagen is about to sell its last gas and diesel models to the Nordic nation.

Any Norwegians still set on buying a non-electric VW Golf or T-Roc have only until New Year’s Eve to place an order with Møller Mobility Group, the family-run business that’s been importing Volkswagens to Norway since 1948. It has already phased out all other gas and diesel Volkswagen models.

“We are at the point where we are definitely selling many more e-cars than we are selling traditional cars,” explains Ulf Tore Hekneby, managing director of Møller Mobility Group’s import arm. While the company imports several brands, Volkswagen will mark the first mainstream brand to pivot entirely to electric. “And it’s really to show the industry, the politicians, and also the Norwegian people that a very big brand in Norway—for so many years—can go fully electric.”

Norway—with a population of just 5.5 million—makes up a tiny portion of Volkswagen’s global market. But the fact that such a well-known traditional car manufacturer is set to be the first to have a fully-electric fleet in the country has a strong “symbolic meaning,” argues Nicola Peng, who monitors mobility trends for global technology analysis firm Canalys.

In 2017, the Norwegian parliament set a non-binding goal for all new cars sold to be zero emissions by 2025. But Peng says Møller Mobility Group’s decision to reach the finish line a year earlier is proof Norway’s EV sector has evolved so much that it’s now “more like a market decision rather than a government decision” for car companies to make the switch.

At the Norwegian Centre for Transport Research, director Bjørne Grimsrud confirms there is now “hardly any public debate” surrounding the political vision that gas and diesel car sales should stop by 2025, and a widespread public consensus that if you can afford a new car, it’s preferable to invest in an EV. He says he is “not that surprised” that Møller Mobility Group is ready to pull its Volkswagen gas, diesel, and hybrid imports twelve months ahead of the country’s target.

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For sustainability-savvy observers elsewhere, Norway’s no-drama break-up with traditional cars might seem like a futuristic fairytale. But sparks have been flying between the Scandinavian country and electric vehicles for decades.

By 2013, EVs already made up 12% of the new car market in Norway, a share which has mushroomed to around 85% today, the highest in the world. Compare that to just 7% in the U.S. and 13% across the European Union in 2023.

Many of the factors that fuelled Norway’s electrification journey are connected to “unique advantages” in terms of demography and natural resources, argues Peng, although she says that doesn’t mean the U.S. and other countries can’t take inspiration from its success.

Those advantages include the widespread availability of cheap renewable energy in the form of hydroelectric power, alongside a strong electric grid, making it easy and affordable for drivers to charge their EVs at home. In tandem, Norway has a nature-loving, tech-savvy, wealthy population with the will and means to test out new innovation.

But, crucially, says Peng, successive Norwegian governments—starting in the 1990s—also introduced a string of incentives, so it made financial sense for drivers to move to EVs. These ranged from cutting import taxes on EVs, to free or discounted access to toll roads, car ferries, and parking spots for EV drivers, and even the chance to drive in bus lanes. Meanwhile, local municipalities built up charging infrastructure to help make it more practical for drivers to make the switch to electric cars. There are charging access rights for drivers living in apartment blocks and thousands of rapid charging points on the rural highways that connect the nation’s towns and cities.

“What you can learn from Norway, is that incentives have been enormously important to driving EV sales,” says Hekneby. “I think the user incentives are equally important as the financial incentives, because it makes it easy to drive and own the car.”

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The pandemic also acted as an unexpected catalyst for Norway’s already rapid electrification process. New car sales rocketed as Norwegians scrambled to avoid public transport, and looked to drive to domestic vacation destinations in the face of air travel restrictions. In 2021, a record 176,276 new cars were sold in Norway—the highest total since 1986—of which 65% were fully electric. Tesla became the number one brand, ahead of Volkswagen and Toyota.

But Grimsrud says there are reasons to view Norway’s love affair with electric cars with caution. While Norwegian cities have also invested in electrifying public transport, including buses and ferries, he argues that the country’s far-reaching incentives for EV owners have served to perpetuate a driving culture. This, he says, is a particular problem in areas where people use EVs to commute from suburbs to city centres.

“This is damaging the competitiveness of public transport,” he argues, and could even slow Norway’s progress when it comes to cutting emissions. “It’s not a very good environmental policy because if you look at the lifespan of an electric car, you include all sorts of CO2 emissions,” says Grimsrud, from producing new EVs to developing the roads and infrastructure needed to support them. Meanwhile Norway’s financial incentives for EVs have even encouraged some families to increase the number of cars they own, which Grimsrud says dilutes the impact of electrification.

Norway’s government has recently done a U-turn on some of its incentives, for instance reintroducing import and sales taxes for some EV models, as well as road tax for all EV drivers, a move which Grimsrud supports. “You need to reintroduce some of the taxes again…so that you don’t get this unnecessary expansion in traffic,” he says. “There is room for sort of rolling a little bit back on the incentives, and still achieving the environmental goals.”

But others, like Hekneby, warn that the strategy will make switching to electric vehicles less affordable for Norwegians, as well as impacting profits for new car retailers. “We have been saying is, it is so important that [the government] are not ruining this really fantastic story just on the finish line.”

Last month the director of the Norwegian Road Federation Øyvind Solberg Thorsen also warned that Norwegian lawmakers may struggle to meet their goal of 100% of new car sales being fully electric vehicles by 2025, especially if proposed tax increases for plug-in hybrid owners come into effect. New car registrations have already dipped in 2023 compared to the last few years, as potential buyers grapple with high interest rates and inflation alongside the removal of previous buyer incentives.

The next 13 months will determine whether the Scandinavian country remains a trailblazer, or trails behind its target.

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