It was going to happen sooner or later, and it was always going to be them – Norway is the first country in the world where electric vehicles are now outselling petrol cars. It crossed the line last year, and new car sales for 2020 are actually majority plug-in electric by over two thirds.
That 68% includes both fully electric cars and plug-in hybrids, which are popular with drivers if not with EV purists. If we just count entirely electric cars, that’s at the 50/50 level. It is due to complete the transition by 2025, at which point you won’t even be able to buy a new petrol car.
No other country has come close to Norway’s rate of EV adoption. In second place is Iceland with 37%. Britain, by comparison, has sales rates of 5.8% for battery vehicles and 3.2% for the more narrow category of purely electric. The US is around there too, and if those percentages sound discouraging, it’s worth looking at how quickly things can change. Norway was at the 3% mark in 2012. It’s taken less than a decade for battery vehicle sales to overtake their fossil fueled brethren. With the right incentives – and just as importantly, a shift in cultural acceptance – we could well see an acceleration here too.
I’ve written before about how Norway laid the foundations for the change over the last 25 years, including some imaginative civil disobedience involving the country’s first electric car and its famous drivers. And with 100% renewable energy, that’s a genuine shift towards clean transport.
There are reasons why Iceland is close behind. Electric vehicles already have a natural advantage, since renewable energy is cheap and oil imports are expensive. Iceland is small enough that people can confidently buy electric and not worry about whether their car has the range for long journeys. To that we can add government schemes such as VAT and import duty exemptions, big investments in charging infrastructure, and local bonuses such as free parking and free charging in Reykjavik.
It is much harder to deliver an electric transport revolution in a larger country, with a more extensive road network and many more cars. But there is certainly more that could be done, both to incentivise electric vehicles and to price in the damage of petrol. The ten year freeze in fuel duty in Britain, for example, is holding down the price of petrol for consumers, and also delaying the transition to cleaner vehicles.
As I mentioned earlier this week, sustainable transport starts with active transport and then public transport. Cars are only one part of the picture – but they are the biggest part of the current problem, and we’re not going to reach carbon targets without electrification of road transport. So let’s learn from places like Norway that are ahead of us on the zero carbon journey, and do what we can to take things up a gear.