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Last year, Norway reached a milestone. Only about 8 percent of new cars sold in the country ran purely on conventional gasoline or diesel fuel. Two-thirds of new cars sold were electric, and most of the rest were electric-and-gasoline hybrids.
For years, Norway has been the world leader in shifting away from traditional cars, thanks to government benefits that made electric vehicles far more affordable and offered extras like letting electric car owners skip some fees for parking and toll roads.
Still, electric car enthusiasts are stunned by the speed at which the internal combustion engine has become an endangered species in Norway.
“It has surprised most people how quickly things have changed,” Christina Bu, the secretary general of the Norwegian EV Association, told me. In 2015, electric cars were about 20 percent of new car sales, and now they are “the new normal,” Bu said. (Her organization is like AAA for electric vehicle drivers.)
Americans might view Norwegians as environmental die-hards who were eager to ditch gas cars. But Bu and other transportation experts told me that Norwegians started with much of the same electric vehicle skepticism as Americans.
That changed because of government policies that picked off the easier wins first and a growing number of appealing electric cars. Over time, that combination helped more Norwegians believe electric cars were for them. Bu wrote recently that if Norway could do it, the U.S. and other countries could, too.
Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and climate scientists have said that moving away from combustion engine vehicles is essential to avoiding the worst effects of a warming planet. U.S. electric car sales are increasing fast, but at about 3 percent of new passenger vehicles, percentages are far lower than those in most other rich countries.
So what did Norway do right? Bu said that the country’s policies focused first on what was the least difficult: nudging people who were considering a new car to go electric.
Norwegians who bought new electric cars didn’t have to pay the country’s very high taxes on new vehicle sales. That made electric cars a no-brainer for many people, and it didn’t hurt people who already owned conventional cars or those who bought used ones.
Bu also said that Norway didn’t become paralyzed by the reasonable objections to electric vehicles — What about places to charge them? Are electric car subsidies a government benefit for the rich? In other words, Norway didn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Not every country has a tax system that’s as well suited to encourage electric vehicle purchases. (Gas …….