Analysis & Synthesis - Eco Urban Living

Norway’s remarkable EV sales offer ideas for other nations

Norway’s four electric cars for every 1,000 passenger cars puts it well ahead of the United States, where electric vehicle sales account for a mere 0.6% of all vehicles sold (through November 2012) and even other similar European countries such as Sweden (0.13%). What can other European countries learn from Norway’s exemplary efforts to help its citizens enter a future of sustainable transportation?

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Norway’s success relies largely on a wide scale combination of measures which have been individually commonly acknowledged as essential to successful EV build-up. These measures include both incentivizing measures as well as those which discourage the purchase of traditional, gas-fueled vehicles, an approach which, yet again, is hardly news to government authorities wrestling with their own EV plans. In addition to the usual tax incentives and purchase subsidies and discouraging measures, such as increased gas-taxes, Norway has also introduced other incentivizing measures, including an exemption from import taxes, leading to a marked sales increase for the Nissan Leaf, and priority access to bus-lanes in Oslo and free parking in city owned spaces.

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Another country making significant strides towards expanding EV ownership is Estonia. Estonian EV sales rates continue to trail those of world leading Norway, but the country is making significant strides with a rate of 1 EV for every 1,000 passenger cars. Hoping to further drive EV adoption, Estonia’s government has recently increased its efforts to raise consumer interest in EVs and hybrids. A new subsidy plan offers from €3,000 to €12,000 per EV, depending on the battery type. The new plan comes in addition to an existing EV subsidy plan offering a maximum of €18,000 as well as another €1,000 towards the purchase of home charging equipment.  Furthermore, the country has also supported this development through an ambitious infrastructure build-up program. As a result, there are now 144 chargers available in Estonia, upon completion the country’s network will include a total of 163 chargers and charging will be free until end of January 2013.

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These forward-thinking and aggressive plans from other near-by countries should encourage others in the region to reconsider the effectiveness of their own programs and take these lessons to heart in developing equivalent measures of their own.

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Read more: Information on Norway’s forward-thinking EV program

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Information on Estonia’s EV programs

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Finnish EV adoption rates and car sales figures from Statistics Finland

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Final reflections on a week with the Think City

While few would dispute that electric mobility is the future of transportation in both the mass and private forms, there is far more uncertainty in attempts to define when this transition to electric vehicles will ultimately take place. Despite the rapid development of electric vehicle technology and the strong confidence and long-term commitment shown by many of the world’s top automakers, the industry has yet to truly spark consumer demand.

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Among the factors contributing to the lack of consumer demand are both purely economic considerations, owing to the higher prices which come as a result of implementing recently developed technologies which have yet to reach market saturation, as well as practical. While the, comparatively, high prices of current electric vehicle models will gradually decline as these vehicles become more widespread, the practical reasons keeping consumers from buying electric vehicles are the first, and most significant, hurdle to clear.

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The marketplace is the true testing ground for the success of any new technology; as such the ultimate fate of any new technology ultimately lies in the hands of the consumer. Thus, educating consumers on the benefits and value of electric vehicles becomes a key tool in ensuring the spread of electromobility beyond a small advocate group motivated by environmental concerns or scientific curiosity. Rather than merely approaching this task instructionally, an approach which serves an important purpose in making available the information which will ultimately guide consumers in making their final purchases, there is great value to allowing the experiences of individual users reach a wider audience.

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To this end, we here at the Eco Urban Living launched in a contest in March to find someone to help us achieve this goal by offering the winner a one-week test-drive of a fully-electric Think City EV. The task was simple; tell us why you should be the one to test drive the Think? From the wide range of entries we received over the course of the next month our expert panel selected as the winner the organizer of the 2012 SELL Student Games. The SELL Student Games were selected for their strong ties to both a local and international student community which brought an opportunity to help spread word of the week’s experiences to this crucial audience of future drivers. Furthermore, the contest panel also saw in the SELL Games an excellent opportunity to increase the environmental benefit of the test-drive week by providing the Games with an all-electric alternative means of transportation during the games.

We first met with the lucky winner, SELL Student Games’ Event Coordinator Timo Häkkänen, a few weeks ago just before Timo and his colleagues at the Games were about to start a hectic week of preparation in advance of the arrival of the competing athletes in a matter of days. We next met with Timo once he’d had an opportunity to drive the car for a few days and get to know it in more detail. Finally, we spoke with Timo after he had spent a full week driving the Think City to see how his impression of electric vehicles had changed over the course of the week.

Timo told us that, first and foremost, his week driving an EV had been an overwhelmingly positive experience. As Timo noted when we last spoke with him his initial concerns regarding the car’s range were quickly laid to rest. In spite of Timo’s long days on the road shuttling back and forth between the Games’ various competition venues, Timo reported never once having to pull over to charge the car’s battery or even to plug it in during a scheduled stop. These concerns, often referred to as ‘range anxiety’ are shared by a great number of people who fear the length of their trips would be limited by an EV’s battery capacity. However, Timo noted that a full battery, following an overnight charge at an ordinary outlet in the Games’ parking garage, proved more than enough to last him through the day and up to 120km.

Once Timo’s range anxiety had been dispelled he began to appreciate the many benefits of driving an EV rather than a gas-fueled car. The most immediate benefit Timo listed was naturally the cost benefit, being able to charge the car overnight and benefit from the electricity already available to him meant that Timo did not have to spend a single cent on the car during the busy week. While the cost of the increased use of electricity will certainly have to be figured into any cost-benefit equation in the long-run, Timo noted that with gas prices as high as they are currently there is little doubt as to which option would come out to be less expensive.

Despite the strong appeal of lower running costs, Timo believes the environmental benefits of electric vehicles are ultimately their greatest and most lasting impact. Far from being alone in his interest in electric vehicles, Timo told us that throughout his week with the EV he was repeatedly asked about the car by people both frustrated by high gas prices and those concerned for the future of the environment.

You can find all of our coverage of Timo’s test-drive here on the blog, including our interviews with Timo, our first interview and our second interview, as well as Timo’s reports from the road which were originally posted on Facebook,facebook.com/sell2012 and facebook.com/ecourbanliving, and Twitter, @SELLstudentgame and @EUL_Finland hashtag #ecourban.

Think City contest in social media

The winner's of our Think City test-drive contest kept a group of eager followers on Facebook and Twitter up-to-date throughout their week with the Think City. Collected below are the Facebook wallposts and tweets from the week.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@EUL_Finland) and Like us on Facebook (facebook.com/ecourbanliving) to stay up to date with Eco Urban Living!

Read more: Think City contest in social media

A novice EV driver's first days with a Think City

With their one-week test drive of a Think City well under way, we sat down with Timo Häkkänen of the SELL Student Games last Friday to see how he was getting along. Eager to hear how an electric vehicle novice, such as Timo, would take to driving a fully electric car, we asked Timo to fill us in on his experiences and the lessons hands-on experience had taught him.

Timo and Hille Häkkinen (SELL's Environmental Issues Specialist) with the Think

Setting out at the beginning of the week having never sat behind the wheel of an electric car, although being relatively familiar with the technology and its development over the course of the past decade, Timo was initially surprised by how quickly he took to driving the car. Thus, Timo was not surprised to hear that even a novice driver such as the Games’ Accreditation Officer, who had only been driving for a few months, would find the car as easy to drive as he did.

Timo’s first impressions of the car were of its silent ignition and, apart from a slight humming sound, its nearly noiseless operation which, Timo noted, certainly sets it apart from fuel-powered cars and required a bit of getting used to at first.  Otherwise, Timo found himself growing accustomed to driving the car surprisingly quickly. Timo mentioned that, being used to cars with manual transmissions, the car’s automatic transmission was the only aspect which took a bit of adjusting to.

Having become quickly accustomed to driving an EV Timo’s first days with the Think were made even smoother thanks to its compactness and agility. Comparing the car’s size and handling to a Smart Car, Timo commented on how well-suited the car had been to his tasks, which had him constantly in need of a place to park the car to make brief stops in, at times, less than ideal surroundings. One such task took Timo on a drive around the Leppävaara area late at night posting signs to guide competitors and audiences to venues in the area. Therefore, Timo found himself needing to make frequent stops and the Think’s compact size helped make certain that he would never be left without a spot to park in.

Throughout the course of these first five days, Timo covered a total distance of 300km driving the car for three hours a day. Timo’s early concerns over the car’s range were put to rest following his first overnight, charge at the same garage where Timo and the other SELL staff members regularly park their cars, which easily lasted through a full day of driving.

Join us later this week for a final interview with Timo!

SELL Student Games begin test-drive of Think City

The beginning of March saw the launch of the Eco Urban Living initiative’s Think City test-drive contest, offering an exciting opportunity to see firsthand what the future of car culture holds in store. The aspiring test-drivers were asked to make their best arguments for why they should be given the chance to spend a week exploring the potential of EV technology. Entries streamed in over the course of the next month from everyone from electric vehicle and car enthusiasts, eager to try out the latest wave in automotive technology, to environmentally-minded young people, eager to do their part in reducing CO2 emissions.

One entry ultimately stood out from among these varied and persuasive hopefuls. The contest panel, following careful deliberation, ultimately selected the entry submitted by Hille Häkkinen & Timo Häkkänen of the SELL Student Games and announced the winner at the Kino Tapiola cinema on April 18th. The SELL Student Games’ strong ties to both a local and international student community bring an opportunity to help spread word of the test-drive week’s experiences to this crucial audience of future drivers. Furthermore, the contest panel also saw in the SELL Games’ an excellent opportunity to increase the environmental benefit of the test-drive week by providing the Games’ with an all-electric alternative means of transportation during the games.

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On Friday, May 11th, we met with the Timo and Hille at Valmet’s offices in Otaniemi to officially hand the keys to the Think City over to the enthusiastic winners. After taking the Think City for a quick first spin around the building, Timo sat down with us to give some background about the SELL Student Games, how they will be using the car during the games, and a little about his own expectations.

The SELL Student Games are a multi-sport event open to students, and recently graduated alumni, from all over the world. The Games, first organized in 1923, are named after the first letters of the host countries’ names, in their native tongues: Finland (Suomi), Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania. The Games’ organizers have adopted sustainability as the major theme of this year’s games, the 28th Summer Games, and strive to ensure environmental sustainability in all aspects of the Games, including: transportation, food, and purchases, while also providing environmental education to staff and volunteers.

Timo told us that they first heard about the Eco Urban Living initiative, and the Think City test-drive contest, from a friend from the Aalto University’s cycling club, who suggested that the contest might be a great way for them to take yet another stride in increasing the games’ sustainability. By using the fully-electric Think City over the course of the games, as well as in the preceding days of organizing and pre-arrangement, to transport equipment and make the other countless journeys integral to keeping the even running smoothly, the SELL Games will significantly reduce the total emissions resulting from its activities.

Timo, as Event Coordinator, will be using the car to travel between the various event locations across Espoo and Helsinki, a purpose which would otherwise have been filled by a gas-fuelled car. Timo, who was already well acquainted with the basics of electric travel, is eager to get behind the wheel of an EV and see how it performs when faced with the logistical challenges of the non-stop travel which the coming week will certainly demand.

While Timo was well aware of the worries shared by many prospective electric vehicle buyers related to battery capacity and whether they would be left stranded on the side of the road, commonly known as “range-anxiety”, Timo was confident that his plans to charge the car overnight, and plug it in during longer lay-overs through the day, would be more than enough to cover the distances he will be traveling.

Make sure to follow Timo’s test-drive throughout this week here at eco-urbanliving.com! Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to make sure that you don’t miss Timo’s updates from the road!

You can find the SELL Student Games at sell2012.fi and like them on Facebook at facebook.com/sell2012.