Electric car tops Norway's auto sales

Finn Helge Lunde is owner of the world's northernmost electric Tesla Model S.

An electric vehicle topped car sales in Norway for the first time last month, a sign that drivers think unconventional autos are affordab


An electric vehicle topped car sales in Norway for the first time last month, a sign that drivers think unconventional autos are affordable and suited for cold-weather climates.

The U.S.-made Tesla S electric vehicle accounted for 5.1 percent of new car registrations in September, according to the Norwegian Road Federation, an industry watchdog group. The Volkswagen Golf finished second with 4.6 percent, followed closely by the Toyota Auris.

Electric vehicles overall captured 8.6 percent of the Norwegian auto market in September – up from 5.2 percent during the same period last year – despite some concerns that alternative fuel technologies don’t hold up under difficult driving conditions.

Tesla enthusiasts said the strong sales showing proves that electric vehicles are road-ready in Norway – even in remote regions high above the Arctic Circle.

“These cars work fine in winter conditions,” said Finn Helge Lunde, a software manager in Kirkenes and the northernmost Tesla owner in the world, according to a company map of existing Tesla S and Tesla X orders. “The technology is there. Now we need to develop infrastructure to support having more of these cars on the road.”

To test the country’s electric vehicle charging network, Lunde set out on an all-terrain road trip last month after picking up his amenities-laden, navy blue Tesla S in Oslo for NOK 650,000 (€80,000).

The 2,527-kilometer drive back to Kirkenes took five days. Along the way, Lunde stopped to fill up on free electricity at Tesla supercharger stations in Lillehammer and Trondheim, where a complete charge takes less than one hour.

He also recharged the car at shopping centers, auto stores and on a ferry between Mosjoen and Malselv. Lunde said his Tesla model — which has a range of 450 kilometers – consumed just NOK 400-worth (€50) of electricity, far less fuel than a gasoline-powered car would have needed for a similar trip.

“It was a great feeling to drive [across the country] and know I’m not polluting,” Lunde said. “We need to change the paradigm because we can’t be so dependent on cars that use carbon-based energy.”

Norway could be well-positioned to lead that change. 

The country produces 98 percent of its electicity using hydroelectric power — meaning that electric cars are far cleaner than they are in, say, the United States, where electric car owners must still rely largely on electricity from natural gas and coal-fired power plants.

A special tax break in Norway – which does not produce any cars – also makes it an especially attractive market for electric car manufacturers. The country imposes an import tax on foreign vehicles but the law exempts electric cars, a perk that makes the high-end Tesla far cheaper than equivalent luxury brands like BMW and Mercedes.

“There’s a major focus on electric vehicles due to the fact that they’re exempt from taxation,” said Øyvind Solberg Thorsen, the Norwegian Road Federation’s managing director. “And there’s a push by the government and road authorities to subsidize the infrastructure.”

Those factors played into Tesla’s decision in August to launch its first European Supercharger stations in Norway. The company unveiled six charging stations along popular routes like the E6 highway from Trondheim to Oslo. 

The company says that now roughly 90 percent of Norway’s population lives within 320 kilometers of a Supercharger station. Tesla followed its Norway rollout by expanding the charging network to Germany, Belgium and Spain, among other countries.

Company executives touted the expansion at the Frankfurt Auto Show last month.

“Tesla’s Supercharger network is a game changer for electric vehicles and will offer Model S owners free, fast charging for convenient long distance drives throughout Europe,” said JB Straubel, Tesla’s chief technical officer.

Despite Tesla’s growth across Europe, several challenges remain. Last month’s spike in Tesla sales in Norway reflected a shipment of 616 back-ordered vehicles. Once that backlog is filled, Tesla’s sales will continue rising but at a much slower rate, Thorsen said.

And while freezing temperatures and icy roads may not stop Finn Helge Lunde from driving his Tesla around Norway, the company’s lack of Supercharger stations north of Trondheim will give some buyers pause.

Until more stations are added to the network, Lunde and other Tesla owners will have to make do with charging their cars at home – which takes roughly 24 hours – or at public buildings and stores, where the service is equally slow.

Lunde said he isn’t worried, however.

“Now everyone understands the benefits of electric vehicles,” Lunde said. “Everyone is getting curious. I don’t think the interest is going away.”