Wednesday 23 October 2019

Electric vehicle wake-up call: Norway has 12,000 charging points - and still there are queues

  • Huge challenge for government here to further incentivise EVs

  • Hybrids to play key role for long time

  • Norway has 12,000 charging points - and still there are queues

Toyota Prius plug-in
Toyota Prius plug-in
Lars-Erik Aaroy
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

It is a vivid case of back to the future for Lars-Erik Aaroy. While we grapple with the multifaceted advent of electrification, he has seen it all before - well nearly all.

Where? In Norway. He was Toyota market boss for six years as the oil-revenue rich country set a searing pace towards electrification.

Now with Toyota Ireland, he is struck by the similarity of trends, population and market forces between the two countries.

In an interview with 'Motors', Lars-Erik (56) admits he is "a little bit Irish" too as he's married to Brenda from Belfast. He is now two years into his role as commercial director with Toyota Ireland.

Lars-Erik Aaroy
Lars-Erik Aaroy

He is at pains to point out how we can learn and profit from Norway's experience. It is not going to be easy. It will take time and, judging by his research figures, a massive amount of investment is still badly needed to make this an EV country. With so much yet to be done, he is not unduly worrying about a threat to soaring hybrid purchases (now the bulk of Toyota sales).

"I don't lose any sleep over them. Maybe in a few years but not now."

He says this without any hint of arrogance. Rather he is trying to convey how the time for Toyota is not here yet when EVs are their major sellers.

But that time will come and when it does, when the infrastructure is properly in place and when there is a much wider choice of EVs, he says his company will be ready.

His words echo what senior Toyota executives from Japan and Europe have told me in response to questions about why Toyota, as a major player, appears to be way off the pace on electrification. For now hybrid is king for them.

Lars-Erik has worked right across Europe in different capacities in a variety of countries and companies. He's had a "very good schooling".

While so much of the talk is about EVs, he reckons nigh on eight-in-10 of their sales on the Irish market right now are hybrids (76.1pc so far in 2019 despite some supply issues). He sees nearly 100pc Toyota hybrid sales being a realistic outcome in the near future. "My old colleagues in Norway are selling 95pc," he says.

Despite that high market penetration, he keeps tabs on EV developments but reiterates the business case Toyota has adopted: the time is not right for a major EV push now.

Especially not with hybrids in such demand.

"EVs are now more usable but there are so many decisions needed to make them attractive for many users. It will happen over time but the infrastructure is not ready. Without incentives it doesn't work," he adds.

As an indication of the task facing us he quotes a couple of Norwegian statistics. "There are 200,000 EVs in Norway. There are 12,000 charging points. But still there are queues. There are not nearly enough for 200,000 EVs."

If that is not a wake-up call about the scope of investment needed then nothing is. Last time he checked, Norway had 2,800 fast chargers. We have 70 or so.

(A new study by Verve Search shows there's one electric car to every 1,788 Irish person, while there's one-to-30 in Norway. There's one charging point every 100km on Irish roads, compared with 23km in the Netherlands.)

Back to Lars-Erik: in Norway, VRT is based on three elements: weight of car, C02 and NOx emissions, as opposed to here where it's CO2-based.

But there are positives for Ireland: our €10,000 EV incentive, 0pc BIK, €7,500 aid with plug-ins, €1,500 for 'self-charging' hybrids are all helping the exodus from fossil fuels.

However, current measures do not go far enough if the Norwegian experience counts for anything.

Lars-Erik has some interesting headline numbers. He prefaces them by saying: "This is what it takes to get there."

Norway has zero VAT or VRT on electric cars; there is an 84pc road tax discount, 40pc BIK discount (it's a price-capped 100pc in Ireland), mostly free tolls, ferries, parking, battery charging and access to bus lanes.

He reckons the total subsidy on an EV compared with a RAV4 hybrid over five years, including road tax, tolls etc (but not BIK, parking or charging) comes to a substantial €28,050. That's nearly €6,000 a year. See what he means about how far we need to travel?

Another important perspective: He links concern over, and monitoring of, air quality as a core driver of the push to zero emissions in Norway. We're not that excited about it here. Yet.

But they are. So much so, he can pinpoint a defining moment in the huge swing from diesel. It was the morning Oslo banned many commuting diesel cars from entering the city because air quality was so poor. That made people think: "I can't get to work in a diesel."

Imagine driving towards Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Waterford centres and being told your diesel will not be allowed.

Along with Norway's incentives is it any wonder EVs went from 1pc of the market in 2011 to 31pc in 2018?

Or why diesel went from 80pc to 18pc over the same period. Hybrids, meantime, shot from 2pc to 11pc with PHEVs from 0pc to 18pc.

Lars-Erik is also adamant there will still be "great space" for Toyota and hybrids even when EVs start arriving in far greater numbers.

Among his reasons are:

*Electric range is not for everyone in a rural country.

*CO2-driven taxation helps hybrids.

*Increased issues with local air quality.

*Hybrid is the only workable alternative for many (taxis).

*Running costs are competitive.

But, he emphasises: "When Europe, outside Norway, is ready to take EVs in volume, Toyota will be ready to deliver."

In the meantime he is getting on with selling more and more hybrids while the rest of us should probably pause and ponder what he is telling us about the road ahead.

Indo Motoring

Also in Life