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Norway EQS
Photo credit: Sven Gj. Gjeruldsen, The Royal Court of Norway

Cars

Norway Royal Family Transitions To Electric Cars

The royal family of Norway is switching to electric cars as a way of supporting the country’s plan to promote the EV revolution.

Our friend Are Hansen sent us a note last week to share the news that the royal family of Norway has added two battery-electric cars to its official fleet of vehicles — a Mercedes EQS and a BMW i7. In addition, the palace now has the use of a Mercedes EQV to support its activities.

“The Royal Palace’s goal is to replace all fossil fuel powered vehicles with vehicles that are powered by renewable energy, as far as this is both possible and practically feasible, Guri Varpe, head of communications at the Palace, told the press recently. The royal family is largely ceremonial, Are tells us, with little “formal power, but with considerable influence on the public opinion.”

1939 Buick Roadmaster

Image credit: Royal House of Norway

One of the most significant moments in modern Norwegian history involved a motor car. On June 7, 1945, King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav drove through the streets of Oslo in a the royal family’s 1939 Buick Roadmaster convertible to celebrate the end of the Second World War and the return of the King from exile in Britain. It was precisely five years to the day after he departed Norway with the help of the British navy.

“The day we decided we had to leave the country was a grim and sombre day,” King Haakon told the crowd in Oslo’s City Hall Square. “We understood that if we remained here, we would be captured and, as prisoners, would no longer represent a free Norway. It was on that basis that we deemed it necessary to continue the struggle for Norway’s freedom abroad.”

In Norway, the cars used by the royal family display license plates that begin with the letter A while on official business. That Buick Roadmaster was designated A-1 and is still active in the royal fleet of cars. The BMW l7 — one of the first of those cars manufactured — will display the A-6 plate in public, while the Mercedes EQS will show the A-8 plate.

Symbolism Matters

For the past ten years, Norway has been one of the leaders of the EV revolution, providing generous incentives in order to encourage its citizens to drive electric cars. In fact, it will prohibit the sale of passenger cars with internal combustion engines starting in 2025 — just three years from now.

The campaign to shift the country to electric cars has worked spectacularly well. In December, nearly 83% of all new cars sold in Norway were battery-electrics. Diesel-powered cars, which used to dominate sales in Norway and throughout Europe, were down to less than 3% of sales. Just last week, Hyundai announced it will sell only electric cars in Norway starting now and Volkswagen announced previously that all its passenger cars for the Norwegian market will be electric as of next year.

Some might think the EV revolution has been won in Norway, but as my colleague Maximilian Holland pointed out last August, electric cars may be taking a huge share of the new car market but they still account for only about 25% of all cars on the road in Norway. On average, a car remains in service there for nearly 18 years.

In other words, it’s going to be a while — a decade, perhaps — before most cars in Norway have been replaced with electrics. What the palace is doing by adding electric cars to its fleet is sending a signal to society — we have gone electric and so should you. It’s a way of encouraging people to ditch their old gasmobiles and switch to an electric alternative sooner rather than later.

Electric Cars & Politics

Elbil, the Norwegian electric car association, is a tireless promoter of electric cars. Spurred on by the royal family’s decision to go electric, it argues the country’s political leaders should do the same. In November, Elbil reported that none of the cars used by government ministers are electric today and no one knows when they will be. On the other hand, the city of Oslo puts a priority on electric cars for transporting its government officials.

“There is an obvious symbolic value in the fact that these cars, in which our government officials are constantly seen in public, also harmonize with the signals that the same authorities have been giving to the people for years — that we should all choose electric and emission free cars, both the people and the politicians. Because in 2025, as is well known, all new cars sold in this country must be emission free,” Elbil writes.

So it contacted the national government to find out why the country’s ministers were not “showing the flag,” as it were, to promote electric cars. The prime minister’s office did the duck and weave, then referred Elbil to PST, the Norway Police Security Service. Finally, Martin Berntsen, a senior adviser at PST said flat out that none of the minister’s cars are electric today and there are no plans to purchase any.

The reason, Bernsten said, is safety. By that he means that all the official cars are armored and there are no suitable armored electric cars available. “We have quite strict specifications and currently there are no electric cars that meet the requirements we have for safety. We are of course following the development, but for now electric cars are not relevant for the protection of the authorities,” he said.

And yet, the attitude of the Oslo city government is exactly the opposite. In an email to Elbil, Marie Hansen, an administrative services person at city hall, said, “All vehicles are electric and procured in accordance with Oslo municipality’s overall requirements for light vehicles with zero emission technology. On a general basis, RFT has assessed that the choice of motorization does not in principle affect safety. Safety assessments and measures beyond this are not specified.” Clearly, “safety” means different things to different people.

The Takeaway

Just as in every other country, in Norway there are people who are in favor of progress and people who want things to stay the same. It does seem if electric cars are safe enough for the royal family and city officials, they should be safe enough for government ministers. Not everyone in Norway is fully onboard with the EV revolution or fully supports the efforts that have been made to promote electric cars over the past decade.

In fact, Norway is beginning to dial back some of those incentive programs, which have worked so well but have also come at significant cost to the national treasury. Symbols send powerful signals in every society. If Norway is going fully electric, its senior leaders should do so as well.

[On a personal note, I would dearly love a ride in that 1939 Buick Roadmaster. Hopefully Are Hansen will make that happen next time I am in Oslo.]

 
 
 
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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we listened?

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