THE GOOD NEWS:
Thanks to government subsidies, Norwegians are now officially buying more electric and hybrid vehicles than gas-powered ones.
In 2017, for the first time ever, one nation pushed gasoline-powered, non-hybrid vehicles below 50% market share.
That country? Norway.
The Scandinavian green-power giant benefits from some special advantages that allow it to break away from the fossil-fuel-reliant pack. Thanks to its plentiful hydropower, it can generate clean and ample electricity for all those plug-ins.
And because the government spent years carefully building funds from its profitable oil fields, sustained subsidies encouraging residents to go electric are an easier sell both economically and politically. Drivers don’t just get a deal on sticker price either. They’re exempt from road taxes and tolls, making the per-day cost of getting around much lower.
Those kinds of perks can create complications for policymakers. In California, for instance, a movement is already afoot to shift taxes on transportation away from gas and toward per-mile usage. But in the longer run, the extra effort is worth the trouble, especially if and when driverless technology begins cutting down on travel time spent behind the wheel.
That’s the kind of calculus behind Tesla’s business plans, to take one example. Elon Musk’s flashy brand has attracted stateside critics bothered by the startup’s reliance on federal cash and its outsized feats of engineering.
But coupled with impressive and amusing stunts from SpaceX and Musk’s tunnel-drilling Boring Company, Tesla has mostly managed to change the all-important perception game around electric vehicles. (Rather than forcing a step down in power and styling, the cars have offered Americans a sense of stepping fashionably into the future.)
In fact, the better electric vehicles do, the more likely it is the incentives will pull back. Norway itself briefly considered turning off the subsidy taps this year for the biggest Tesla models. While moves like that could discourage a few potential customers, they could also encourage a lot more to get on board while the discounts last.
When it comes to catching a popular wave, of course, more than money motivates the rush of early adopters. Beneath the flurry of subsidies and policies, electric cars — driverless or not — are simply getting cooler.