Solvik-Olsen: Norway leads on electric cars

Norway has the world’s best incentives for buying electric cars. But a zero-emission vehicles’ strategy might not work in EU countries with a strong automobile industry, said Norwegian Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen.

Ketil Solvik-Olsen is Norway’s Transport Minister.

He spoke to EURACTIV’s Ecaterina Casinge.

Norway has the highest number of electric cars per capita in the world. How did you achieve that?

Norway’s car market is fairly small on the global scale, but we have the highest share of the market for electric cars [12.8% during the first nine months of 2014].

A few years ago, we introduced tax breaks and other incentives for electric car buyers. Compared to vehicles running on fuel, electric cars come at a very good price. Moreover, if you drive an electric car, you can park and use all the roads for free, including ferry rides in Norway, and drive in bus lanes. We invested heavily in recharging infrastructure, which together with the incentives encouraged people to buy electric cars. It helped cut CO2 emissions in our cities and put in place a sustainable model with vehicles running on clean electricity.

Do you think other countries could learn from Norway’s experience?

It depends. Norway has a surplus of energy from the hydroelectric power plants because we are building a lot of wind farms and hydro generators. But if countries start building power plants to feed the electric car grid, shifting from car to plant emissions, it might not be worthwhile.

Each country will have to look at their power supply. Our experience might not work in countries with a strong automobile industry. We succeeded in increasing electric car sales, because we kept high taxes on regular cars and cut taxes on electric cars.

With more electric cars on the road there, there was congestion in the bus lanes and a loss off ferry companies revenues. How are you addressing these challenges?

The parliament passed legislation on electric cars in 2007 after discussions on climate change. The agreement was that there would be no taxes on electric cars, and we’ll keep the perks until 50000 electric cars are on the roads. But the market developed so much faster than we expected. As we succeeded a lot faster than we thought, we are now looking into easing up on these problems this year.

Electric cars will continue to be treated favourably in the tax system. Most likely, we will not remove all electric cars from the bus lanes but we’ll probably close down one or two of them where electric cars are too many and are creating a problem. There will be changes. Some of the benefits will slowly go away. But we hope that the market itself will also provide cheaper electric cars, even though some perks will be lost.

The Nordic countries have been encountering problems with cabotage, as many foreign drivers are misusing the system. What actions do you expect from the Commission?

We favour free competition across borders, as long as foreign lorries comply with Norwegian rules. We see that many foreign trucks, compared to the local ones, don’t pay a road toll. They drive on our roads, and once they leave, we have no clue where to send the bill. Many of them will bring their fuel from abroad to avoid paying for a highly taxed fuel in Norway. Also, for example, local trucks will have to abide by much stricter rules compared to foreign vehicles, which all in all creates a very uneven playing field and distorts competition.

We support the cabotage system, but we would like to ask the EU to clarify a few provisions in the current law. For example, what is a minimum allowable cargo weight to enter a country. (Should we) put in place a system to make it easier for member states to register the number of trips a foreign truck has made?

What are Norway’s priorities and concerns in the transport sector at the EU level?

A priority for Norway are external drivers using our infrastructure without properly equipped vehicles, or with poor driving skills on slippery roads. It’s important for Norway to ensure safety on its roads and that all drivers, local or foreign, have the necessary skills to handle the road conditions we have. We would like to see obligatory measures at EU level for slippery road conditions or to receive a green light from the Commission allowing Norway to adopt such requirements at the national level.

I would like to propose to the EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc to have a common EU system obliging drivers to pass a winter driving test and change to winter tires while travelling in the North. Having a common rule would make it a lot easier for other trucks and transportation companies to know what to expect instead of having different rules from country to country.

Wouldn’t it better that Norway solves these problems at the national level instead of suggesting to the European Commission adopting more laws?

Yes, we are cautious not to get in trouble with the EU every time we consider enforcing more strictly these control laws.

That is why we want to raise this issue with Commissioner Bulc and ask for clarifications. Either we could have something at the EU level, or implement measures at the national level.

For example, foreign drivers can skip taking a slippery road driving test as part of their driving license course, but then Norway should be able to deny entry to those drivers.

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