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9 in 10 cars now being sold in Norway are electric or hybrid

Norway is seeing a record boom in sales of electric cars, which far outpace gas and diesel vehicles. Here, an electric BMW drives on the street in downtown Oslo.
Sigrid Harms
picture alliance via Getty Images
Norway is seeing a record boom in sales of electric cars, which far outpace gas and diesel vehicles. Here, an electric BMW drives on the street in downtown Oslo.

Norway just hit a record in its move to phase out cars that rely on fossil fuels.

More than 9 in 10 new cars sold there in September were either electric or rechargeable hybrids, according to the Norwegian Information Council for Road Traffic, or OFV. Of all new passenger cars sold so far in 2021, less than 5% are gas-powered. A slightly smaller percentage use diesel.

Around 8 in 10 new passenger vehicles were all-electric, led by the Tesla Model Y. Sales of all-electric cars saw a roughly 46% increase over the previous September, the council said.

The top two models sold were both made by Tesla, the Model Y and the Model 3. In the third slot was the Skoda Enyaq, followed by the Toyota RAV 4 — the only hybrid in the top 10.

Norway plans for new cars to be emissions-free by 2025

The sales numbers push Norway closer to meeting its national goal of transitioning to an entirely zero-emission fleet of new cars by 2025 — an initiative the government backs with lucrative tax incentives.

In fact, the Norwegian Automobile Federation, or NAF, recently reported that if past trends continue at the same rate, Norway could see its last internal-combustion car sold in April of next year. But the group also cautions that the number isn't likely to hit zero that soon, noting the dearth of electric offerings in vehicle segments such as pickups and four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Several factors are driving record numbers of Norwegian drivers to choose electricity over gas or diesel power, including new technology that has eased customers' anxiety about electric vehicles' range. But money is a main concern.

Electricity is rewarded, and gas is punished

Norway has long encouraged people to adopt electric vehicles — and it does so by using a carrot so large that it's essentially also a stick. Electric cars are exempt from the 25% value-added tax, for instance. They're also exempt from environmental pollution taxes that buyers of gas and diesel vehicles must pay.

"The purchase tax for all new cars is calculated by a combination of weight, CO2 and NOx emissions," the Norwegian Electric Car Association says. "The tax is progressive, making big cars with high emissions very expensive."

Other sweeteners include a host of auto-related fees that are reduced or eliminated, from ferry rides to parking. And companies can get a tax break for each electric vehicle in their fleet.

Change could come for a key tax deal

Overall, Norway is seeing brisk passenger car sales this year — more than 35% higher than in 2020, according to OFV.

Part of the reason electric vehicles are leading that growth could come down to concerns about possible changes in government polices, especially the VAT exemption.

"The fact that VAT may be introduced on the purchase of electric cars above a certain price level may also lead to increased sales," said Øyvind Solberg Thorsen, director of the OFV, according to an automated translation by Google.

With electric car sales booming, the future of the VAT exemption has been a topic for political debate this year, as legislators look at how to bolster revenue while also supporting the move away from fossil fuels.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.