Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of the highly successful US-based Tesla Motors, was back in Norway this week and full of appreciation for how Norwegian officials have sparked demand for electric cars. He called Norway a “pioneer” in the electric car revolution.
Norway has “shown the world” how to introduce electric cars on a large scale, Musk told the audience at a Norwegian government conference on transportation and climate issues in Oslo on Thursday. He said Norway had provided Tesla with its greatest source of support, by introducing a string of incentives for purchasing electric cars instead of conventional gasoline-powered vehicles. They have included everything from major tax benefits to use of bus and taxi lanes, free battery-charging facilities, free parking and exemption from road tolls.
Some of the incentives are now under pressure, with the small Center Party, for example, calling for their repeal because they’ve “served their purpose.” It would be politically unpopular to cut off the benefits that have encouraged so many Norwegians to buy electric cars, so the fate of various proposals to do so is unclear.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported that Norway is now Tesla’s biggest market in Europe, accounting for every sixth new car sold in the country. Musk credited Norwegian government policies not only for his own company’s success but also for the electric car industry’s boom in general.
“Without what happened in Norway, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Musk said. “I love Norway, for the job you’ve done.” He repeated the one Norwegian word he’s learned (takk, thanks), adding that “when I travel to Europe, I always come to Norway.”
Local officials were clearly basking in the light that always seems to shine around Musk, also known for founding the online payment service PayPal and involved in many other future-oriented projects. For now, though, he was exultant over the success of the launch a few weeks ago of the new Tesla Model 3. Even before its production has begun, Tesla has receive nearly 400,000 orders for the car.
Musk noted how that’s never happened in the history of the automotive industry. He proudly claimed how Tesla processed orders worth USD 1.4 billion in just one week. He promised to deliver “a fantastic car” that many people will be able to afford.
Norwegian Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen, noting that electric cars still take as much space on the roads as other cars, challenged Musk to find new solutions to traffic congestion. “We have an idea,” Musk said, describing it as “not exactly a bus” but a different, zero-emission means of transporting people. “I don’t want to say much now,” he added, “but we’re working with something that can solve the problem of too many vehicles in the cities.”
Aftenposten reported that Musk also challenged Norway to lead the way in a transition from energy production based on oil and gas to renewables. If Norway could continue developing hydroelectric power in an environmentally friendly manner, and develop more wind power, it could supply large areas of Northern Europe with clean, renewable energy, he said. He called the transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy “very exciting” for Norway.
Solvik-Olsen and Prime Minister Erna Solberg were listening, even though their conservative government colleague who serves as oil minister remains bullish on oil and gas and in opening up new areas of the Arctic to exploration and production. Solberg claimed in her opening remarks at the conference, though, that the government’s goal is for Norway’s transport systems to be “secure, promote value creation and contribute to the shift towards a low-emission society.” The challenge is to find out how to do that: “We must make what’s impossible today, possible tomorrow,” Solberg said.