Tesla Roadster, Reva i, & Ford Th!nk electric cars parked at charging station in Oslo, Norway

Tesla Roadster, Reva i, & Ford Th!nk electric cars parked at charging station in Oslo, Norway

Overshadowed by their spectacular sales success in March, electric vehicles hit a momentous milestone in Norway last month. Fully one percent of Norway's passenger-car fleet now consists of battery electric vehicles.

And this isn't a case of rounding up, either – this is a full 1 percent. As reported by Norwegian website Gronn Bil ("Green Car"), the country is now home to 26,886 cars that plug in, of which 25,710 are pure battery electric vehicles.

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Given the country's estimated 2.5 million passenger cars, this means that battery-electrics alone have a market share of 1.02 percent. Add the plug-in hybrids, remove a "significant digit," and the market share for all plug-in electrics rounds up to 1.1 percent.

Electric cars parked on the streets of Oslo, Norway [photo: Wikimedia Comons]

Electric cars parked on the streets of Oslo, Norway [photo: Wikimedia Comons]

As with all such announcements, it's important to get to the fine print, which in this case is to note that Norway classifies vans, buses, trucks and other vehicles separately from passenger cars--and it's only the latter to which the 1-percent figure applies.

For comparison, the U.S. would have to have 2.5 million plug-in vehicles on the roads to equal Norway's percentage. At the moment, the country is coming up on 200,000 such vehicles sold since December 2010--less than one-tenth Norway's total in percentage terms.

How long til 2 percent?

We can also project when electrics might become 2 percent of Norway's passenger car fleet.

The country has 2.52 million vehicles, yearly new car sales of about 140,000 units, and it scraps about 120,000 old cars a year. (A tip of the hat to Best Selling Cars Blog and Statistics Norway for that data.)

If those trends hold, and plug-ins maintain their current 10-percent share for new passenger-vehicle sales, Norway's national fleet will be 2 percent electric in January 2016.

At 15 percent of new-car market share, Norway would get there in June 2015. And at 20 percent, they could get there in just nine months.

Of course, many things could throw these extrapolations off.

On the negative side, a cut in government support could slow the transition to electric transportation--if, say, the Norwegian government began to tax battery-electric cars the way it now taxes gasoline cars. (The modest sales of plug-in hybrids probably relate to the fact that, until recently, they were also heavily taxed by the Norwegian government.)

But on the positive side, a widening selection of plug-in vehicle choices makes it likely that more new-car buyers will go electric. The more electric-car drivers there are, the more likely that owner enthusiasm and social-proof effects will create additional buyers.

Electric Cars Charging in Norway

Electric Cars Charging in Norway

Gasoline use plummets, but...

Domestic oil consumption in the U.S. has dropped in recent years, thanks to newer vehicles' improved fuel efficiency and drivers covering fewer miles.

In this regard, Norway has done simultaneously better and worse than the United States. Its gasoline consumption has plummeted–but so far, that's all been from a shift to diesel fuel.

According to Statistics Norway, the country has cut its overall gasoline consumption by 24 percent during the past five years.

Its database shows an even higher 37-percent decline in gasoline use for personal transport, from 2004 to 2012. (When 2013 data becomes available, the drop will probably top 40 percent.)

Unfortunately, when the diesel numbers are figured in, the country's consumption of hydrocarbon fuels has risen slightly over the past five years. A small decline in fuel use for personal transportation has been offset by higher consumption in industry and the commercial sector.

Still, with Norwegians' enthusiasm for electric vehicles, it should only be a matter of years before we see real, measurable declines in the country's oil use – and can attribute them to the country's growing electric fleet.


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