Norway's Electric Car Boom Started by Pop Star

Updated: Feb 26, 2021

The statistics are astounding. Over half of all cars sold in Norway in 2020 were fully electric. Include plug-in hybrids in the mix, and that figure approaches 90 percent. And it was all triggered by an 1980s pop star.

In 1995, Morten Harket (the lead singer of the 1980s band A-ha) and the head of Bellona, the Norwegian environmental group, got into a converted electric Fiat they had imported and set off on what can only be described as an anarchic, rule breaking joy ride.

They drove around Oslo parking illegally as often as possible, refusing to pay road tolls, and ignoring all the penalty notices they received - until, finally, the authorities seized their car and auctioned it off to cover the fines.

This imaginative stunt attracted huge media attention and much public debate. Resulting, soon after, with the government announcing that electric vehicles were to become exempt from road tolls. This was just one of a slew of incentives that have, over the years, helped make Norway the country with the world’s highest per capita electric vehicle ownership.

Norway’s EV boom has been in the works for several decades, and shows the power of a good incentive scheme to make radical change. The country is one of a number of European countries that took advantage of a domestic oil boom through the 20th century.

Norway has used its enormous bank balance to fund its domestic transition toward electric vehicles with very generous subsidies, including no purchase or import taxes, no road tax and either free or heavily discounted fees for toll roads, parking, ferries and company car tax. EV drivers are also entitled to use bus lanes and receive subsidies for scrapping older, fossil-fuel-powered vehicles.

For every carrot, there is also a stick, and Norway has increased the tax burden on gas-powered cars to encourage EV purchases. In one example, EV Norway explains that a standard VW Golf is taxed to the tune of €12,000 ($14,700) to make the e-Golf cheaper in a side-by-side comparison. Norway has used some of that cash to fund infrastructure investment, including building a fast charging station every 30 miles or so on the country’s main roads.

All of this means that it expects, by 2025, to be able to end sales of fossil fuel-powered cars completely.

If you would like a little reminder about Morten Harket and his band, A-Ha, here's a video of one of their biggest hits: Cry Wolf