From princes to undertakers, Norway’s motorists go electric

A man loads a charging cable in his Tesla Motors electric car at an all-electric cars parking lot in Oslo. (AFP)
Updated 10 July 2019

From princes to undertakers, Norway’s motorists go electric

  • Norwegians, including Crown Prince Haakon, are increasingly switching to electric cars
  • Electric cars have long been able to whiz through toll plazas without paying

OSLO: Some want to save the planet even in the afterlife.
In Oslo, a funeral home offers the dearly departed a trip to their final resting place in an eye-catching electric hearse, as electric vehicles take over the roads in the Scandinavian country.
"Many people drive an electric car in Norway and some want to leave this planet in a green way," says undertaker Odd Borgar Jolstad, demonstrating his customised Tesla in the tranquility of the Grefsen cemetery overlooking the capital.
"So this is our little contribution to the environment," he smiles.
Rich or not, young and old, hip urbanites and rural dwellers alike: Norwegians, including Crown Prince Haakon, are increasingly switching to electric cars.
The choice is especially green in this country, where most of the electricity produced is environmentally friendly, derived from hydro power.
From the affordable Nissan Leaf to the luxurious Tesla, more than half of new cars sold in the country in March were run on batteries rather than fuel.
"We will probably pass 50 percent" for the full year as well, says Christina Bu, secretary general of the Norwegian EV (electric vehicle) Association.
That is unprecedented in Norway and elsewhere, and the share is expected to increase further with the arrival of new models offering ever-increasing range.
While the Nordic country is the biggest oil producer in Western Europe, it is officially aiming for all new cars sold to be zero emission by 2025.
"There are of course some challenges but it's definitely possible," Bu says.
To meet that goal, Norway will have to switch into higher gear for its recharging infrastructure, setting up stations along motorways, in rural zones and private parking lots, she notes.
But do Norwegians, who owe their immense wealth to North Sea oil, really have a greater environmental conscience than others?
Probably not — the speedy electrification of the country's automotive fleet is attributed mainly to generous state subsidies.
Electric cars are almost entirely exempt from the heavy taxes imposed on petrol and diesel cars, which makes them competitively priced.
A VW Golf with a standard combustion engine costs nearly 334,000 kroner (34,500 euros, $38,600), while its electric cousin the e-Golf costs 326,000 kroner thanks to a lower tax quotient.
Per Kolner, a retired business leader in his late 60s, is already on his fifth electric car.
He bought his first one because of the high cost of city road tolls.
"First it was actually the cost," he says, standing in front of his spanking new Tesla 3.
"Tolls kept popping up all around and on my way to and from my work every day I had to pass them four times, which made about 10 to 15 dollars a day just in toll fees."
Electric cars have long been able to whiz through toll plazas without paying.
But even denizens of this wealthy state grumble about the cost.
As Norway's car fleet grows increasingly cleaner and is therefore subjected to fewer taxes, the state's revenue from car-related taxes is now 2.6 billion euros lower than in 2007, according to the government.
Some benefits have already disappeared: road tolls are no longer completely free, just reduced, and the same goes for parking and recharging stations in public parking lots.
Electric cars are also allowed to use bus lanes freely. However, as their large numbers slow down bus traffic, in the most congested parts of Oslo they can use bus lanes only if there are at least two or more people in the vehicle.
The duration of the exemptions — guaranteed until 2021 — is increasingly being questioned.
"We subsidise electric vehicles in Norway because they have somewhat lower CO2 emissions than conventional cars," notes Bjart Holtsmark, a researcher at Statistics Norway.
"But there are a lot of other social costs related to car driving: congestion, accidents, noise and so forth. And with respect to those types of problems there are very small differences related to these types of cars."
According to Norway's biggest insurer Gjensidige, new electric cars are involved in 20 percent more accidents involving personal injuries than diesel models, in part because of their faster acceleration.
Meanwhile, electric cars are attracting more than just private consumers, with commercial clients following the trend as well as taxis and postal and fire services, among others.
But on Oslo's streets, the electric hearse still raises eyebrows.
"Often, when we drive around, people walking by — and even some drivers — take out their phones to take pictures," says Jolstad, wearing a dark suit as befits the job he has held for three decades.


Huawei’s third-quarter revenue jumps 27% as smartphone sales surge

Updated 17 October 2019

Huawei’s third-quarter revenue jumps 27% as smartphone sales surge

  • American companies, significantly disrupting its ability to source key parts
  • Huawei was all but banned by the United States in May from doing business with American companies

SHENZHEN, SHANGHAI: Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd’s third-quarter revenue jumped 27%, driven by a surge in shipments of smartphones launched before a trade blacklisting by the United States expected to hammer its business.
Huawei, the world’s biggest maker of telecom network equipment and the No. 2 manufacturer of smartphones, was all but banned by the United States in May from doing business with American companies, significantly disrupting its ability to source key parts.
The company has been granted a reprieve until November, meaning it will lose access to some technology next month. Huawei has so far mainly sold smartphones that were launched before the ban.
Its newest Mate 30 smartphone — which lacks access to a licensed version of Google’s Android operating system — started sales last month.
Huawei in August said the curbs would hurt less than initially feared, but could still push its smartphone unit’s revenue lower by about $10 billion this year.
The tech giant did not break down third-quarter figures but said on Wednesday revenue for the first three quarters of the year grew 24.4% to 610.8 billion yuan.
Revenue in the quarter ended Sept. 30 rose to 165.29 billion yuan ($23.28 billion) according to Reuters calculations based on previous statements from Huawei.
“Huawei’s overseas shipments bounced back quickly in the third quarter although they are yet to return to pre-US ban levels,” said Nicole Peng, vice president for mobility at consultancy Canalys.
“The Q3 result is truly impressive given the tremendous pressure the company is facing. But it is worth noting that strong shipments were driven by devices launched pre-US ban, and the long-term outlook is still dim,” she added.
The company said it has shipped 185 million smartphones so far this year. Based on the company’s previous statements and estimates from market research firm Strategy Analytics, that indicates a 29% surge in third-quarter smartphone shipments.
Still, growth in the third quarter slowed from the 39% increase the company reported in the first quarter. Huawei did not break out figures for the second quarter either, but has said revenue rose 23.2% in the first half of the year.
“Our continued strong performance in Q3 shows our customers’ trust in Huawei, our technology and services, despite the actions and unfounded allegations against us by some national governments,” Huawei spokesman Joe Kelly told Reuters.
The US government alleges Huawei is a national security risk as its equipment could be used by Beijing to spy. Huawei has repeatedly denied its products pose a security threat.
The company, which is now trying to reduce its reliance on foreign technology, said last month that it has started making 5G base stations without US components.
It is also developing its own mobile operating system as the curbs cut its access to Google’s Android operating system, though analysts are skeptical that Huawei’s Harmony system is yet a viable alternative.
Still, promotions and patriotic purchases have driven Huawei’s smartphone sales in China — surging by a nearly a third compared to a record high in the June quarter — helping it more than offset a shipments slump in the global market.