‘I drive in the bus lane’

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Dagfinn Hiehe says he no longer sits in traffic jams

“I drive in the bus lane because I have an electric car. It saves me 30 minutes on every journey to work.”

Dagfinn Hiehe was smiling ear-to-ear as he told me his favourite thing about having an electric car.

“You don’t need to queue. You can just by-pass the queue. It is a great feeling!”

Dagfinn is one of the rapidly growing number of Norwegians, who have made the leap to electric – and he is loving it.

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Ida says there are places you can park for free in an electric vehicle

Driving in the bus lane is just one of the incentives the Norwegian government is offering its citizens, in exchange for dumping their petrol or diesel and switching to electric.

Like many big cities, Oslo’s roads are crowded, and saving time on the commute is hugely appealing. Another big benefit is the discount on road tolls, which you are largely exempt from in an electric vehicle.

Norwegians finish work at around 4pm, so by late afternoon when I met Dagfinn, at a rapid car charging bank just outside the centre of Oslo, rush hour was in full swing.

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The only hold-up is finding a free charging point

There were seven charging points and they were all full, with a steady stream of people arriving, charging and leaving. It takes twenty minutes and you can get a faster charge than charging at home. And while you wait, you can pop across the road to pick up your food shopping.

Next I got chatting to Ida who pulled up to the charging bank in her BMW i3 after finishing work.

“I got this last September,” she told me. “My last car was a BMW 3 Series. I [had] a budget and compared to a petrol car this came out cheaper. It is cheaper to charge than petrol. You can park free in places and drive in the bus lane.”

In March, sales of new electric cars reached 58.9% in Norway. Here in the UK, 0.9% of new cars sold were electric. It’s clear offering perks likes these is working, combined with one other big incentive.

“We have a system where we tax the cars we don’t want, meaning petrol and diesel cars that pollute. And we don’t tax electric cars,” said Christina Bu from the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association.

It is this policy that has underpinned the surge in electric car sales. The government has made electric cars VAT exempt, giving buyers 25% off the price.

“It is all about economic incentives, politicians telling consumers: hey, we want you to make the right choice and we want to help you,” said Ms Bu.

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The uptake of electric vehicles has been much lower in other countries

The success of these policies has made Norway a global market leader in the sector, with governments and motor manufacturers from around the world all heading to the Nordic country to learn from what they’ve done, and to exploit opportunities.

British car builder Jaguar is one of the carmakers reaping the benefits of Norway’s electric car boom. In 2017, they sold just 299 cars in the country. In October last year they started to deliver their electric Jaguar I-PACE, and have sold almost 3,000 vehicles.

But like many surges in demand, it can often present a problem with supply – and for Oslo there just aren’t enough chargers.

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Christina Bu says the government’s tax break has encouraged uptake

“The rollout of chargers is lagging behind,” Christina Bu told me. “We’re getting queues at chargers and that isn’t good for the market. But we have lot of businesses investing in the fast-charge market.”

On the other side of the city, I headed towards the pier in the centre of town, by the Oslo Fjord to meet the city’s mayor, Marianne Borgen. She’s very happy about what they’ve achieved with electric cars in Norway and said people stop her in the street to commend her on the quality of the air now in the city.

“This is about our grandchildren’s future,” she said. “It’s about the health of the people in the city, because planet and climate change can be quite abstract for many people. But it’s not. It’s about our daily life. It’s about health. It’s about the future”.

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