Estonia is a tiny ex-Soviet nation, home to just over 1 million people. It is also the best place in the world to buy and drive an electric car. It's John Broder's worst nightmare. And it's because Estonia has pursued what is probably the most ambitious plan to promote nationwide electric car use in history.
Here’s Estonia’s two-part Electric e-Mobility plan (ELMO) to bring electric cars to prominence:
1. Build and run 165 EV fast-charging stations across the country, where an average electric car can recharge its batteries in about half an hour. Each charging station will be within 40-60 km (25-37 miles) of another one. Every town with more than 5,000 people gets its own charging station. As such, Estonia has essentially eliminated range anxiety altogether—it’s now just as easy to find an electric car charger as a gas station.
2. Offer citizens ridiculously sweet deals on buying the electric cars themselves: the government is making grants available that take 50% off any electric car’s sticker price. Yes, get half-off any electric car (as long as it meets some easy requirements), just for living and driving in Estonia. The average EV price in Europe is 30,000 Euros—Estonia is offering up to 18,000 off. That’s a good deal.
Electric cars still only number in the hundreds in Estonia, but this is a comprehensive and unabashed push to transform a deeply entrenched transportation paradigm: This is how a nation paves the way for electric cars, if it’s so inclined. Keep in mind that Estonia isn’t even a crazy rich socialist country like Norway or Denmark—it’s the 35th richest country in the world, per capita, according to a recent analysis by a UK think tank. The U.S. is 12th.
It’s still not a perfect plan if the aim is to reduce carbon emissions, as officials claim—Estonia is one of the few countries in the world that still gets its electricity from oil shale, a high-carbon energy source if there ever was one. Still, the EV infrastructure will remain in place as the nation transitions to cleaner sources.
So now we’ve got a bona fide, nationwide electric car experiment on our hands—if EVs can supplant fossil fueled gas guzzlers and achieve ubiquity, they’ll do it here. The global auto industry will be watching. And diehard EV aficionados should probably just up and move to Estonia already.