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Anne Kari Hansen Ovind’s explanation of Norway’s successful and much-publicized conversion to zero-emission vehicles is succinct: “Incentives work.”

All new cars will be zero-emission vehicles by 2025, Norway’s ambassador to Canada predicted during an interview with Canada's National Observer.

“I am an economist. So, I like to talk about economic incentives.”

Norway, which has been described as the “poster child of the EV revolution,” has many incentives to make it more attractive to buy zero-emission vehicles, mostly those powered by electricity.

There are rebate programs to make the cars more affordable for consumers; the right to drive in bus lanes; cheaper parking, the list is long.

“There’s a whole package of designs for making that an absolutely attractive choice,” Ovind said.

The government also makes the sales price of still-dominant conventional vehicles more expensive by slapping them with higher sales taxes.

The other part of Norway’s success story is charging stations.

“As with any new technology, consumers need to feel confident that (electric vehicles) can meet their day-to-day needs,” Paula Vieira, director of transportation and alternative fuels for Natural Resources Canada.

According to the embassy, Norway has 2,400 charging stations. The ratio works out to about 44 stations for every 100,000 residents in this country of 5.4 million.

Canada’s ratio is much lower.

On June 25 Canada had 5,781 charging stations, a ratio of approximately 15 charging stations per 100,000 in a country almost seven times the size of Norway.

When comparing the two countries, here’s something else to consider.

The success of zero-emission vehicles sales is typically measured by what’s called a penetration rate, the degree to which these vehicles eat into the sale of their conventional, gas- or diesel-powered competitors.

Norway’s Canadian embassy says electric and hybrid cars commanded 56 per cent of Norway’s market in 2019.

According to data Transport Canada obtained from IHS Markit Catalyst, zero-emission vehicles (battery-electric and hybrid vehicles) accounted for 3.8 per cent of total light-vehicle (electric cars) sales in Canada from Jan. 1 to March 31 of 2020.

To say the least, Canada’s sales numbers are more modest.

The federal government wants more Canadians to buy electric vehicles, but it's a tough sell. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Can Canada learn from Norway’s success?

As Canada struggles to find ways to expand the market for zero-emission vehicles, looking to countries such as Norway as a benchmark makes sense. Indeed, Canada may already be taking notes.

In an emailed correspondence, a spokesperson for Natural Resources Canada explained that “Canada and Norway mutually exchange information on progress and lessons learned on a regular basis.”

The discussions occur at organizations to which both countries belong: the International Energy’s Agency’s Energy Technology Systems Analysis Program; the Electric Vehicles Initiative; and an Alliance that focuses on “accelerating the adoption of zero-emission vehicles.”

Given this level of exchange, countries like Norway could provide a blueprint for Canada as it attempts to reach its ultimate sales target: zero-emission vehicles comprising 100 per cent of all new sales by 2040.

And as Canada struggles to meet its medium- and long-term targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the transportation sector must be part of the overall plan.

Why transportation?

According to the federal government’s most recent assessment of greenhouse gas emissions, the transportation sector accounted for 25 per cent of emissions, a close second to the oil and gas sector’s 26 per cent.

Those figures don’t sit well with the federal government’s climate goals. Part of the federal government plan is to lead by example through the greening of its fleet of so-called administrative vehicles used by RCMP officers, cabinet ministers and federal inspectors.

Natural Resources Canada is assessing 3,000 vehicles in 10 departments with the goal of changing to more climate-friendly natural gas, hydrogen or electrification.

The whole effort got off to a rough start in 2016. A briefing note to then-natural resources minister Jim Carr, obtained through an access-to-information request, indicated problems, beginning with a “limited number of (electric vehicles) … that would meet ministerial requirements.”

Those problems are old news, said Paula Vieira, director of transportation and alternative fuels for Natural Resources Canada during an interview with National Observer.

“In fact, the government is looking to accelerate and increase (its) commitment.”

But even if the government becomes a role model, it must still tackle what Vieira concedes is one of the largest hurdles to achieving Norway’s success: cost.

Sticker shock and consumer anxiety

As a lead department responsible for educating consumers about the benefits of shifting to zero-emission vehicles such as electric cars, Natural Resources Canada has had a tough job.

“As with any new technology, consumers need to feel confident that (electric vehicles) can meet their day-to-day needs,” Vieira said.

She didn’t make that assessment during the interview with Canada's National Observer, but back in 2017, testifying before the Senate transportation committee.

“(Consumers) need to have access to information that can help them understand the various (electric vehicle) technologies and help them to inform their purchasing decisions. Once they do decide that their next vehicle will be an (electric vehicle), the purchasing and driving experience has to be similar to what they are used to in conventional vehicles.”

Paula Vieira, director of transportation and alternative fuels for Natural Resources Canada, calls the need for more electric vehicle charging stations the "biggest hurdle." Photo credit: Natural Resources Canada

Fast-forward to 2020. For Vieira, it’s still a tough sell.

“Consumers will tell you it’s got to be price parity ... we expect price parity will happen mid-2020. That’s certainly what industry is predicting. That battery technology will become less expensive and vehicles will become less expensive to produce,” she said.

Price concerns are also echoed in a survey published by the McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics. The majority of respondents expressed unwillingness to buy an electric vehicle and had concerns about batteries.

Still, there are signs some skepticism might be waning.

In 2019, Clean Energy Canada commissioned a poll on attitudes toward zero-emission vehicles. A majority of respondents — 64 per cent — said that “if it were up to them, electric cars would become the majority of vehicles that consumers drive at some point in the future.”

Clean Energy Canada’s policy director, Sarah Petrevan, says the results were encouraging.

“There was a lot of favourability around rebates and purchase incentives and infrastructure (such as charging stations).”

Consumers also seem to be warming to rebate programs.

On May 1, 2019, Transport Canada implemented the Incentives for the Zero-emissions Vehicles Program.

“The incentive program has already had a positive impact on Canadian zero-emission vehicle sales,” department spokeswoman Frédérica Dupuis said in an emailed response to National Observer.

“As of May 31, 2020, more than 46,000 Canadians and Canadian businesses have benefited from (zero-emission vehicle) incentives. As of this date, over $185 million has been processed for incentive claims.”

Still, there are demands for even more federal generosity.

In its pre-pandemic recommendations for a 2020 federal budget that has now been indefinitely postponed, Electric Mobility Canada called on the federal government to “increase the current incentive program.”

For her part, Petrevan would like to see Ottawa expand its subsidies to cover a broader range of consumers, including those shopping for second-hand vehicles and lower-income groups.

Canada needs more programs to encourage electric vehicle use, says Clean Energy Canada’s policy director, Sarah Petrevan

You can look at incentives on a sliding scale based on income and rebates to lower-income Canadians. “There’s lots of different policies. Norway did a great job.”

In addition to subsidies, another obstacle is building more charging stations in order to align Canada’s numbers more closely with Norway's per capita numbers.

Expanding the network

Providing enough charging stations has also been a priority for Norway. In an emailed response, embassy spokesman Erik Furu said, “The Norwegian government wants the development of charging infrastructure to be market-based as fast as possible.”

In its pre-budget brief, Electric Mobility Canada demanded “up to 5,000 additional public stations ... over three to four years.”

Natural Resources Canada’s Paula Vieira calls the need for more charging stations “the biggest hurdle.”

Norway’s deliberation about charging stations and other obstacles involved consumers, businesses, all levels of government and politicians of all political persuasions. Achieving consensus over a 20-year period allowed the country to make steady progress.

“As long as you are clear ... which direction you’re going, businesses ... will integrate sustainable development goals as part of their strategic thinking,” Ovind said.

“The incentives over the years have been important in changing consumers’ habits to make it a very natural option.”

So there are a few lessons Canada can learn from Norway.

Incentives work. In Canada, zero-emission vehicles are more popular in jurisdictions -- B.C. and Quebec -- that have their own rebate programs, in addition to the federal initiative. Incentives must include more jurisdictions and be beefed up at the federal level.

Political consensus is key. All levels of government and political parties from all stripes must be on the same page. Canada’s climate-change discourse is fractured.

Industry must step up. When GM announced that it was closing its Oshawa plant to focus on electric cars, there was no thought about keeping the production in Canada. In a country that has set hard sales targets, GM’s decision sends the wrong message.

Norway got it right. Can Canada?

Editor's note: This story is part of a series on coming out of Covid-19 with a strong green stimulus package for Canada. It was produced through a collaboration with the Trottier Family Foundation.

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That's great, but what are they doing to reduce the number of cars on the road? The planet cannot afford greater automobile production, zero-emission or otherwise. Having shut down North Sea oil producion, Norway is successfully exporting the impacts of its oil profiteering (Equinor operations) to the US and the global South. Now it will do the same with vehicle production, creating sacrifice zones in poorer countries to produce more and more electric vehicles.

Canada boasts the worst fuel economy in the world. Why? Because Canadians prefer large vehicles and trucks.
But large EVs have a bigger carbon and ecological footprint than smaller ICE cars.

EV rebates subsidize the rich. EV rebates are a very expensive and thus inefficient way to reduce emissions.
The most efficient solution is to price carbon.

But EV's pose a far bigger problem.
Electric cars are not remotely green. EVs have a huge footprint. And car culture drives urban sprawl. Neither is remotely sustainable.
With their huge footprint, EVs wouldn't be green even if they ran on fairy dust. Much of that footprint is embedded in mining and manufacture of materials. About half of the energy used over the lifespan of a car is expended during its production. Using two tons of metal to transport a 150 lb human being is an ecological non-starter.
The larger the range, the bigger the battery, the heavier the vehicle, and the worse for our environment.
Halving our emissions but doubling the number of cars (in developing world) gets us precisely nowhere.

In perpetuating sprawl, EVs exacerbate the problem and delay real solutions. A one-Earth footprint cannot accommodate an energy-intensive lifestyle where people drive everywhere they go -- or an urban model relying on millions of cars to transport millions of people.
EVs support the unsustainable urban model underlying our high energy/resource consumption. We cannot solve the paradigm problem simply by replacing internal combustion engines with electric motors.
In promoting EV cars, we are still going down the wrong road. Never mind the EV detour. Let's go straight to the solutions. No time to lose.
Sprawl makes efficient public transit impossible. Transit use in many cities is dismal and going down.

No solution to sprawl except to hit the brakes. The decisions we make now set the blueprint for generations to come.
We need to redesign our cities for people, not cars. Invest massively in public transit, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure — and smart urban design that allows people to live close to their place of work and amenities.
The automobile lifestyle will never be green. No car is compatible with a one-planet ecological footprint.
An EV car future is a costly commute away from sustainability goals.

"Why big tech won't solve our transit woes" (Rabble)
The "three revolutions" hailed by Big Tech: A proliferation of personal electric vehicles, then ride-hailing services, and eventually autonomous or self-driving vehicles. Real solutions or illusory?
"Transit remains far less polluting on a per-passenger basis than personal automobiles. It takes an estimated 100 personal electric vehicles, for example, to achieve the same 'environmental relief' that a single sixty-foot electric bus provides. Thus a billion Teslas will not solve climate change. Each of those cars has an enormous carbon footprint from the components mined from the earth and the energy-intensive processes needed to create it.
"The 'three revolutions' will only bring worsened inequality, more sprawl, dangerous streets, and even less accessibility."

I broadly agree that mass transit is the direction we want to go. But some of the critiques of electric cars are overblown. Electric vehicles have a large carbon footprint . . . if the electricity running them comes from coal, and if their manufacture is done with transportation that uses diesel trucks and mining that uses ICE machinery and so forth. But I live in a place where all the electricity comes from hydro, and if all the vehicles being made were electric that would include freight vehicles and mining machinery and forklifts. It's not clear how much carbon footprint an electric vehicle would have in an overall electric-vehicle world running on renewable energy in which manufacturing processes had also been thoroughly electrified, but it would certainly be far smaller than green opponents of electric vehicles tend to cite.

Mass transit would still be better . . . but I'm just coming off months of not being able to use it because of the pandemic, so I'm feeling more sympathetic than usual to the idea of personal transportation at least as a backup.

The tendency of Canadians to drive uselessly big vehicles is mostly due to marketing, because vehicle companies make bigger margins on big vehicles. To defeat that kind of problem we would need to end capitalism.

I'm a bit skeptical as to the influence of marketing on North Americans' choice of large vehicles.. but if such is the case, then one approach could be to raise CAFE standards. Alternatively, perhaps federal/provincial government(s) could institute an additional 'vehicle' tax that depends on a vehicle's rated fuel economy. In the US, the federal government still exacts a 'Gas Guzzler Tax' which applies to the purchase of automobiles that are rated at less than 22.5 mpg, though the tax does not apply to pickup trucks or SUVs.
Either way, it seems to me that it would be worthwhile to act promptly, not only because CO2 continues to accumulate in our atmosphere, but also because vehicles purchased today will last many years 'down the road'. Also, as others have pointed out, electric vehicles are still an expensive and/or impractical option for some.
As I understand it, the Honda Fit will be available in hybrid form in some markets next year, but it will be completely discontinued in North American because subcompact vehicles are just not popular here. Many of us drove FWD subcompacts in the late 70s, early 80s, and they are still very popular in other parts of the world.

Also, perhaps there would be a certain justice in having purchasers of less fuel efficient vehicles subsidize, at least in part, those who purchase electric vehicles; over having it subsidized by others including those who choose to get by without a motor vehicle.

Canada still hasn't had the deep discussion on our future with regards to petroleum. My bias says phase out the oil industry as quickly as possible, but there are many Canadians who equally strongly feel we must maintain a strong oil industry. We can't have sensible future policies without reconciling these polar opinions.

It's uncomfortable for politicians to address the issue - much easier to support whatever action is deemed to have most support at the instant.

Perhaps it is the role of publications such as this one, to properly and fairly lead the difficult discussion we need. So far that hasn't been the case, the National Observer is too clearly one-sided in it's coverage.

As long as we keep buying cars that seldom get to 10% payload, the companies are playing us as suckers. The government should set performance goals, not mandate technology. We got badly burned on the ethanol program, among many others. The sad reality is that waste and inefficiency are a Capitalist's best friends, so they can't be attacked carelessly.

While we really need to "re-design" the way (and the reason why) people move around, in both urban and rural settings, let's be clear on what is really holding back people from buying EVs. It's the price of a vehicle, not the availability of charging stations. If it's not your main reason, it should be. I've had an EV for 2 years now and it is great. I save over $2.5k a year (considering gas, electricity and car maintenance) and feeling good about not spewing more carbon in the air (at the transport stage).
In 2 years, we've used a public charging station only 2-3 times. I purchased a relatively cheap Hyundai Ionic (full electric) when there was a large provincial rebate in Ontario, so it was cheaper than buying a regular car. Total win!

Jump starting the transition fast enough may suffer from the plethora of folks who have all the answers to a complex threat we simply can't reduce to our either or, right wrong kind of thought processes. Reading the comments below it seems that we're either looking for a silver bullet, or imagining that we've found it.

I don't think Nature works that way. I don't think Change comes in those big packages marked 'one size fits all' either.

We solarized over 10 years ago.......put up more three years ago, for less than half our original outlay. Before kkkKenny could shut the rebate program down in Alberta we solarized our daughter's roof.

When the federal rebate program was announced we bought an electric Kona..which we absolutely love. We aren't so simple minded as to believe we've solved the climate crisis, but exchanging the camper we used to take our grandkids on 'local vacations', for the tent we're sleeping in now, is another climate saving.

Small is beautiful. I should know, I'm a grandma. Our two six year olds have gone big into potatoes this spring..purple,pink and white. Their pumpkins and spagehetti squash are doing well too.

We're just one family, but I'm sure we aren't finished yet, finding savings and things to do with our time and money that don't burn fossil fuel. Looking for one big fix, and panning every other attempt to cut down on CO2 emissions might make a person feel like an expert...........but we need to consider:

Perhaps we're trapped in the same mindset that created the problems we face now. Electric vehicles is one small part of the solutions we need. Safe public transit is another. Affordable homes not monopolized by slum landlords is another big one.......make them smaller......small can be beautiful, and make them net 0.....there's lots of right livlihoods there. Make them affordabe, even if it takes a subsidy. Collecting rent from the working poor is not a practice that produces growth. What it produces is institutionalized inequality.

Shut down the jet set crowd and the quickly as we can. Limit flying to essential services and insist people accumulate carbon credits before they get on one of those big birds. Big is too often, Climate Disaster.
Change the rhetoric. Wealth creators don't invest in Fossil Fuels; they may well put research dollars into making EVs even more carbon neutral....producing more electricity from non carbon sources, and installing more charge stations.
And for the love of the Goddess, let's start laughing when Big Oil promises to be carbon neutral...some time in the future. Only the scientifically illiterate believe that's possible.

By comparison electrifying the grid is a no brainer.........but not the end of our need for new brainy ideas. Let's all innovate more, do more, and think both-and, not either-or....none of us know the future.

When asking "how can we learn from their success?" you kind of need to ask about the whole picture of that success.

Norway can afford this because they relentlessly promoted their petroleum industry, extracting over $100 billion and counting into the national coffers; it pays for their whole pension system, which frees up a lot of money to do social good with.

This includes the opening, THIS YEAR, of a new oil field with 2.7 billion barrels of oil in it.

The Observer is my favourite paper, but you guys are kind of pathetic in your search for heroes and villains. Having designated Norway as one of the heroes of the piece, you don't want to say a bad word about them.

Real life is more complex. When you say "learn from their success" you are really saying "support the oil industry, take big royalties from it, use those to get our own nation off of oil."

That would be a perfectly valid strategy for Canada to take - it's worked for Norway - but it would involve doing business with the designated villains of the piece, the ones you don't want to acknowledge within heroic Norway.

My thinking exactly. It's easy to offer huge subsidies for electric vehicles after building a trillion dollar soverign wealth fund using oil revenues.

Instead, we've given away our oil to the US and others, and continue to fight against building our own industry. Why? Because resource management is a provincial resource, and Alberta's politician are beholded to the oil companies, and their ridiculous free-market laissez-faire arguments, to maintain power. Instead of giving it away and competing with the Americans, who as usual are stacking the deck in their favour, we need to bite the bullet and develop our own resources for the benefit of all Canadians. Hopefully the move forward with the TransMountain pipeline expansion is a sign of things to come.

So nice to see that Ford has committed to assembling electric vehicles in Oakville, Ontario, starting in 2024.