An electric car charges in Norway. Image: Ausgamers
The hands-down best place to buy and drive an electric car is Estonia. In that Eastern European nation, the government will pitch in 50% of the sticker price for your brand new EV, and no matter where you are, there's always a charging station just 25 miles away. That's hard to beat—but Norway comes close.
In Norway, citizens not only get $11,000 off the cost of a new electric car, they're granted special parking spots in places where they're especially scarce, like downtown Oslo, and they get to bypass tolls, too. Altogether, Reuters calculates that the benefits are worth $8,200 a year. On top of it all, electric car operators also get the special privilege of using the designated bus lanes, presumably while drivers of gas-chuggers lean out the windows and scowl at them.
As such, buying an electric car is a highly attractive option in Norway, and a full 3% of new car sales were EVs last year—which may not sound like much, until you consider the fact that they comprised 0.1% of sales in the United States, the world's biggest electric car market. Finally, sweetening the whole deal is the fact that Norway gets nearly all of its electricity from hydropower, which means Norwegians can put to bed the claim that electric cars just suck down a different kind of fossil fuel power.
Of course, all this success must come at a cost, and because it is becoming trendy to dump on electric cars these days, Reuters fuels its lengthy report of Norway's electric car progress with unrelenting cynicism—even the headline is "Norway shows the way with electric cars, but at what cost?" Even electric car owners think the benefits are too good to last! And it's all so expensive!
To which I say, yawn. Of course it's expensive! Implementing a new transportation paradigm that requires expensive new technologies isn't going to be cheap. But sometimes elected governments agree to invest heavily in new things because they think progress is not only possible, but a good idea, and that the social benefits will be worth the investment!
If Norwegians begin buying enough electric cars, as with elsewhere, costs will fall when demand rises. Norway alone isn't going to drive the EV market, but Denmark, Estonia, and others are also providing alluring incentives, and each are relatively rich nations. The cars will not be so expensive forever.
Secondly, nearly every report critical of electric car subsidies neglects to mention that we are currently subsidizing the gas-guzzling auto industry to the tune of billions of dollars a year—by paying the public health cost of citizens inhaling particulate pollution spouted by conventional cars' exhaust pipes. Perhaps Norway feels that an investment in emissions-free electric cars is also an investment in public health, in addition to the general atmospheric health.
Legitimate criticisms abound as well, of course. Such heavy investment may be better spent on improving and modernizing public transportation options, if the goal is to reduce pollution, congestion, and transportation hassle. And sure, the utopianist in me would love to see more attention given to building and strengthening car-less communities altogether. But electric cars are a step away from fossil fuels, and therefore a step in the right direction. Carry on, Norway, and drive clean.