The electrification of the transportation industry is a certainty, but it still needs to be put into practice.
It shouldn’t come as a great shock to hear that the nations of Scandinavia are currently excelling. In the most northern countries of Europe, we find pioneering work in a wide variety of sectors, from the manufacturing of heavy trucks by household names like Volvo and Scania to the intricate and fascinating innovations heralded by startups like Einride and Volta. The electric vehicle market continues to grow at a staggering rate in Norway and Iceland, while the governments of Scandinavia are implementing actionable policies and bringing about change for the good. Elon Musk might hog most of the attention on innovation and development in the EV world. Still, knowing eyes look north for the future when it comes to the electrification of the mobility sector.
Sustainability and the Electric Vehicle Initiative
An increased focus on the planet’s future has made sustainability one of the most important words in the modern lexicon, no matter the industry. Ensuring sustainability is particularly pertinent in the transportation sector, as the mobility industry has long found itself under the microscope when it comes to the depletion of natural resources and the staggering levels of pollution that have been created since the advent of the internal combustion engine in 1872. Put simply, if you’re not keeping an eye on your carbon footprint, you’re no longer relevant.
Many initiatives have sprung up in recent years as the transportation industry looks to ensure its future, and electrification has dominated much of the landscape. Electric vehicles (EVs) may have been around in some form since Gustav Trouvé wowed the audience at the 1881 International Electrical Congress in Paris. But the 21st century has seen EVs go from the playthings of the eccentric to front and the center of the mobility discussion.
Governments worldwide have visibly embraced the move, with a variety of policies and initiatives in place that looks to increase the number of EVs on the road while reducing old-fashioned, fuel-guzzling modes of transport. The Electric Vehicles Initiative (EVI) is front and center of this, a multi-government policy forum that focuses entirely on introducing and adopting electric vehicles across the globe. At the time of writing, 15 countries are signed up to the scheme, including economies and cultures as varied as China, India, New Zealand, Japan, the UK, Norway, and Sweden.
Pioneering Different Sectors
The Nordic countries have long been a hotbed of innovation, invention, and creation. The list of inventions from the great north covers everything from zippers to dynamite via the loudspeaker, the seatbelt, and the cheese slicer, showcasing a history of thought that pushes boundaries and creates the new standard. It stands to reason that the Nordics would find themselves at the heart of the electrification of the mobility sector, be it on the road, the rails, the sea, or the sky. In Europe, the Nordic countries set the tone, and the rest of the world follows suit.
Norway is widely considered to be the world leader when it comes to the concentration of electric cars on the road. Also, Sweden became the first country to launch a public electric road in 2016, with an EV charging highway that allows for charging while driving slated for completion in 2022. Startups in the latter are also pushing the envelope when it comes to the electrification of other forms of transport, from the truck to the ferry, while Norway launched the world’s first electric ferry back in 2015. Many countries now flirt with the electrification of mobility, but none do it with as much enthusiasm and grit as the Nordics.
The EV Market in the Nordics
Such innovation and commitment are largely meaningless unless backed up by action, and the people of the Nordic countries have well and truly embraced the electric revolution. Norway leads the way on a global scale, and 2020 saw the sale of electric cars overtake those for petrol, diesel, and hybrid engines. Electric vehicles made up 54.3% of all cars sold in the country last year, a staggering number compared to EV sales just a decade ago when the market share in Norway barely pushed the 1% mark.
54.3% is hugely impressive, but the number is expected to continue its upward trend. Experts predict a 65% share in 2021 ahead of the Norwegian government’s stated goal of 100% electric car sales by 2025. Many scoffed when that target was first declared, but the aim of selling only zero-emission cars by that year is now within reach. When new passenger car sales are taken into account, the percentage of plug-in electric vehicles grows further to 74.8%.
Sweden may not be entirely at the same level yet, but Norway’s neighbor is more than pulling its weight. New passenger car sales for 2020 saw plug-in vehicles hit 32.2%, good for a third globally and covering a third of the national market. This is trending in the right direction, with electric vehicles responsible for 49% of new sales in December of that same year, a clear indication that the third will soon become a half will soon become even more. For comparison, this number was 11% as recently as 2019.
It helps to have a beloved name like Volvo fully onboard with the future. The Swedish multinational icon is aiming for 50% of its sales to be fully electric by 2025, simultaneously committing to putting one million electric cars on the road by that same target. Innovation and sustainability need to be embraced by the entire industry, and the commitment of major names such as Volvo is imperative.
Iceland might be one of Europe’s smallest countries by population and population density, but that doesn’t mean that it should be ignored when discussing the electrification of the mobility sector. One of the world’s most urbanized countries, Iceland, has proven to be the perfect place for electric vehicles, with almost all trips on the island within the range of modern EVs. New passenger sales of plug-in EVs cornered 45% of the Icelandic market in 2020, a number that is very much trending in the right direction. 100% of Iceland’s electricity also comes from renewable sources, making it the ideal playground for testing the transportation industry’s future.
Of course, the opportunities created by Norway, Sweden, and Iceland aren’t going to be replicable worldwide, but the adage of using the tools available rings true. With conditions amenable to the electrification of the mobility sector, the Nordics have embraced the concept with open arms.
Shipping, Trucks, and the Rest
The proliferation of electric cars is a step in the right direction for improving the sustainability of the transportation industry, but what of other forms of transport? Selling electric cars to individuals is one thing, but convincing companies to embrace electric trucks, ferries, and the rest? That isn’t quite as simple.
Once again, Scandinavia is at the forefront of this challenge, with several companies pushing the boundaries and coming out the other side with remarkable results. The economies of Norway and Sweden might not be quite as sea-centric as they once were, but this doesn’t mean that shipping has lost all importance in either. Far from it, and keen efforts have been made to replicate the success of electrification in cars in shipping. Ampere, the world’s first electric ferry, was launched by a Norwegian company in 2015, while March of 2021 saw the world’s largest all-electric ferry go into service across the Oslo Fjord. The Bastø Electric has room for some 200 cars (or 24 trucks) and 600 passengers, while the battery and fast-charging systems are provided from a factory in Trondheim, allowing for lightning speed charging while in the dock. Two more all-electric ferries will hit the waves soon, bringing a sustainable approach to Norway’s busiest ferry connection.
The City of Stockholm is piloting electric hydroplane boats for public transport on the waterways of the Swedish capital. Stena Line has also entered the game and is running electric ferries to prove the technology, aiming to introduce fully electric ferries at a larger scale by 2025 at the latest. Stena will be the first major name in the industry to fully commit in this direction, allowing passengers and freight vehicles to traverse the sea more sustainably than ever.
Södertälje-based commercial vehicle manufacturer Scania AB has also embraced the electrification of mobility, establishing a range of electric trucks, buses, and engines that grow annually. It is committed to the electrification of long haul transport central to the company’s future. Scania’s Battery Electric trucks offer 100% zero-emission operation 100% of the time, while the company’s electric buses are specifically designed with the requirements of the smart city in mind.
Stena Line and Scania are two of the biggest names in their respective industries. But what of the startups and independent innovators looking to make waves in the electrification of the mobility sector? Such questions can’t be answered without the story of Einride, the Swedish company founded in Stockholm in 2016 and is best known for its fully autonomous trucks (known as Einride pods). These aesthetically pleasing and energy-efficient pods don’t require lumbering driver’s cabs. The Einride pod was the first driverless electric freight vehicle to operate on a public road globally. Still, Einride’s vision is much bigger than cool pods. Their vision is to rewrite the way companies organize and buy transportation using electrification and sharing, and collaboration. Norwegian-Swedish startup Volta is another name causing heads to turn, and the company recently announced the unveiling of Volta Zero. This 16-tonne electric truck could revolutionize inner-city transportation, which will begin production in 2022.
Market and Policy Outlook
The numbers certainly bode well for the electrification of the transportation industry, but what are the whys behind the ever-increasing figures? What are the Scandinavian countries doing that others are not? The first place to look is official government policy, and Norway, in particular, has long been building towards a zero-emission future. In the early years of the 21st century, Norway introduced zero purchase tax and simultaneously absorbed the 25% VAT on electric vehicles. This approach has since been accentuated by other benefits such as a 50% rebate on company car tax along with reduced road taxes, parking fees, and ferry charges. In short, the Norwegian government is stacking the policy odds in favor of electrification, and the proof is in the pudding.
Sweden isn’t far behind, with a wide range of incentives available for drivers of electric vehicles. Among them is a sizeable grant for up to 25% of a new purchase price, along with a company car tax deduction of up to 40%. There are also numerous grants and city-centric incentives such as free charging and subsidies for building charging points.
The Nordic countries have been more aggressive than most when it comes to the decarbonization of the economy and transitioning to a more sustainable way of living. There has been much talk about sustainability in transportation and logistics for a while, but the north countries have shown that attacking the issue head-on can produce direct results. The Nordics have set the foundations in place for the continued electrification of the mobility sector. These things do not simply come into existence through optimism; official policy and government support are where it begins.
A proliferation of charging points and a commitment to the building of battery factories also help. With its headquarters in Stockholm, Northvolt AB is building Europe’s largest battery factory in the northern city of Skellefteå and Europe’s biggest factory for energy storage solutions in Gdansk (Poland). Northvolt’s owner has explicitly expressed a desire to ‘flick a switch for Europe’, and the company is certainly putting its money where its mouth is.
Changing the Way We Move
There is more to making transportation sustainable than electrification – the use of technology to share vehicles and making logistics more efficient is perhaps equally promising in making better use of natural resources. Technology and the world’s connectivity have changed the way we do business, the way we create, the way we interact, and how we learn, so why shouldn’t it change the way we move?
The electrification of the mobility sector is as much about the present as it is about the future. But many nations worldwide could do worse than casting a glance to the north to see what the Nordics are up to. Education and understanding go hand in hand with sustainability, and no region of the world knows this better than the pioneers and innovators of Scandinavia.