Comparing the Top 5 European Countries For Electric Vehicle Adoption

 In EV Industry

Behind China, many consider Europe a hotbed for electric vehicles.

While overall European sales numbers were only up 13%, and exponential growth will be required to meet Europe’s goal of ‘8 million EVs by the end of 2020,’ significant milestones were hit in 2016.

By the end of the year, Norway, the Netherlands, and France each achieved cumulative plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) sales of more than 100,000. In Norway, plug-in electric vehicles even accounted for more than 33% of new car registrations.

Norway, the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom (UK), and Germany account for 82% of the cumulative sales of PEVs in Europe, and we can take a look at these top 5 countries to better understand what’s working and what isn’t.

In this article, we survey each country’s incentives, energy costs (electricity and gasoline), and charging infrastructure.

1) Norway

EVs driving on road in Norway

In March 2016, PEVs reached a market share of 33.5% according to Inside EVs. Every third new car registration for March in Norway was a PEV!

Norway’s accomplishment is both surprising and predictable. Contradictory? Yes, but here’s another contradiction: Norway is a major petroleum producer, but almost all its electricity comes from hydro-electric power.

Norway could have gone either way – so what pointed to EVs?

In 1990, a Norwegian coalition government began its support for zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs) by introducing exemptions on purchase and import taxes. At that time, the coalition was concerned with improving the local environment and the worldwide climate as well as preserving fossil fuels.

Promotion, education, and infrastructure development over the next 26 years seem to have assured today’s successes. Norway’s original goal was to have 100,000 ZEVs on the road by 2020, but as of September 2016, HybridCars reports that there are a total of 121,330 PEVs; plus some hydrogen cell cars.

Energy Pricing

Here are some Norwegian energy prices.

Basic electricity rate (with taxes): $0.16 U.S./kWh  (Eurostat Statistics Explained)

Time of Use Rate: No (The smart meter program began in late 2016 and won’t be complete until January 2019.)

Gasoline Price: $1.89/L ($7.15/gallon US) (


The Norwegian EV association has compiled this list of the incentives and the years in which they were introduced.

  • No purchase/import taxes (1990)
  • Exemption from 25% value added tax (VAT) on purchase (2001)
  • Low annual road tax (1996)
  • 50% reduced company car tax (2000)
  • Exemption from 25% VAT on leasing (2015)
  • No charges on toll roads or ferries (1997 and 2009)
  • Free municipal parking (1999)
  • Access to bus lanes (2005)

Norway has high taxes on high emission vehicles, which help to pay for these incentives. Norwegian PEV drivers, in a survey, identified the zero tax incentive for ZEVs as the highest motivator for their purchase.

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Around 96% of electric car owners in Norway have access to a charging station in their own home or apartment. Additionally, Norway has a well-established charging system for those without access to a charging station or for those travelling extended distances.

The world’s largest EV fast-charging station opened in rural Norway (Nebbenes about 60 km north of Oslo), September 1, 2016.

The average number of charging stations in Norway is 2.4 for every 1,000 registered vehicles. The following map shows the density of chargers.

Charging point density in Norway

Charging point density in Norway, Courtesy: The International Council of Clean Transportation (icct)

2) France

Electric vehicle in France

France is home to a number of vehicle manufacturers, including Renault, Peugeot, and Citroen, as well as assembly plants for foreign brands. The Renault Zoe alone accounted for almost half of all French PEV sales during 2014.

France made tremendous gains in PEV numbers going from less than 10,000 registered PEVs in 2012 to over 100,000 in 2016.

Energy pricing

Here are some energy prices in France.

Basic electricity rate: $0.18 U.S./kWh (Eurostat Statistics Explained)

Time of Use Rate: Not yet (The smart meter program began in 2016 and won’t be complete until 2021)

Gasoline Price: $1.52/L ($5.75/gallon US) (


Here’s the current offering—France doesn’t offer indirect incentives at the national level.

  • Environmental bonus or feebate (bonus/malus)—It’s a one-time tax that penalizes (malus) high CO2 emitters and rewards (bonus) low emitters. It can be as high as 27% of the list price to a maximum of 6,300 euros ($6,744 US). The malus revenue finances the bonus.
  • Conversion—Up to 3,700 euros ($3,961 US) applies to diesel car owners who switch to a ZEV.
  • There are various other vehicle taxes that are reduced by varying amounts depending the amount of CO2 emitted.

A zero emissions vehicle buyer can receive up to 10,000 euros ($10,705 US) for the combined incentives. After this past December’s air quality scare in Paris, Forbes reports that this now applies to light trucks and taxis with a 1,000 euro ($1,070 US) bonus for electric scooters.


Since 2013, the French government has provided funding to assist public charging.

Unfortunately, charging availability information for France is limited. The highest density in any of the regions is 0.1 charging points for every 1,000 registered vehicles.

The following map shows the charging density according to the most reliable information from the French government’s registry.

Charging point density in France

Charging point density in France, Courtesy: icct

3) The Netherlands

Nissan Leaf in the Netherlands

The latest Netherlands plan is to phase out all internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by 2035. Here’s another contradiction—the Netherlands, home of Shell Oil, proclaims an end to the ICE. However, the EV transition is understandable given that around 90% of the population lives in urban settings whose short travel distances are favorable to PEVs.

Energy pricing

Here are some energy prices in the Netherlands.

Basic electricity rate: $0.17 U.S./kWh (Eurostat Statistics Explained)

Time of Use Rate: No (The smart meter program started in 2015 and will be completed in 2020)

Gasoline Price: $1.68/L ($6.36/gallon US) (


Rather than singling out PEVs, the system is based on the level of each vehicle’s CO2 emissions. As in Norway and France, the main incentives are delivered in taxation schemes. The Netherlands has not introduced indirect incentives nationally—they’re at the municipal level.

  • New car registration tax—It’s based on the amount of a vehicle’s CO2 emissions, and is zero for zero emission vehicles, which can save thousands of dollars compared to high CO2 emitting vehicles. Plug-in Hybrids (PHEVs) get a graduated reduction.
  • Ownership tax—It’s a tax based on vehicle weight and type of powertrain. ZEVs are exempt from this tax while PHEVs get a weight reduction credit.
  • Tax exemption on private use of company cars—Private use of a company car for more than 500 km adds a taxable benefit to an employees income. Again ZEVs are exempt from this and PHEVs receive a graduated reduction. This is significant because around 90% of PEVs are registered to companies.

Because taxes are based on the size and weight of a vehicle, the most significant benefits are earned on large PEVs. Surprisingly (but understandably), over 50 percent of the PEVs in the Netherlands are SUVs.

A Strategy Backfire

In 2016, the government reduced the amount of the exemptions for PHEVs.

This tax was significant because it could save a top-percent tax earner from 6,000 to 7,000 euros ($6,600 to $7,700) per year.

The benefit was reduced because many plug-in hybrid owners were running their vehicles on gas or diesel instead of electricity. The government hoped that this move would encourage more BEVs, but instead the Netherlands experienced a 73% drop in sales in the first six months of 2016. The market recovered somewhat by year-end, but overall PEV sales declined.


The charging infrastructure in the Netherlands has been achieved with public-private partnerships. This partnership is a consortium of regional and state-owned electricity grid operators. The average number of charging stations in the Netherlands is 1.1 for every 1,000 registered vehicles. The following map shows the density of chargers.

Charging point density in the Netherlands

Charging point density in the Netherlands, Courtesy: icct

4) United Kingdom

Renault in the United Kingdom

The UK has car manufacturers such as Vauxhall, Mini, and Land Rover as well as car assembly plants, and is the second largest car market in Europe. The UK doesn’t have an official PEV goal, but unofficially the government has a plan to make PEVs 5% of 2020 car registrations.

Energy pricing

Here are some energy prices in the UK.

Basic electricity rate: $0.22 U.S./kWh (Eurostat Statistics Explained)

Time of Use Rate: No (The smart meter program began in 2016 and won’t complete until January 2020)

Gasoline Price: $1.46/L ($5.53/gallon US) (


The UK has three policies for incentives:

  • The Plug-in Car Grant—Covers 35% of the cost of a car (up to a maximum of £4,500 ($5,600 US) depending on the model) and 20% of the cost of a van, up to a maximum of £8,000 ($9,900 US).
  • Electric vehicles (with CO2 emissions below 100g/km) are exempt from the annual circulation (ownership) tax.
  • Private use of company cars—Reduces the taxable income benefit based on the CO2.

The Plug-in Car Grant is the most important incentive for private cars—in some cases, it can reduce the total cost of EVs below the cost of conventional cars. Indirect incentives are left to the regional governments.


In 2013, the UK government announced a grant of up to 75% of the installation costs of new charging points. The average number of charging stations in the UK is 0.31 for every 1,000 registered vehicles. The following map shows the density of chargers.

Charging point density in Great Britain

Charging point density in the UK, Courtesy: icct

5) Germany

Volkswagen Golf in Germany

Germany is the economic driver of the European Union and a manufacturer of some high-end cars such as BMW, Mercedes, and Audi.  “The car is holy in Germany,” says Sascha Müller-Kraenner, the Berlin-based European representative of The Nature Conservancy.

Germany ranks last of the five in PEV registrations. However, Germany has acted in response to its commitment to the Paris Agreement because, although it has been successful at reducing its overall greenhouse gas emissions by about 21% since 1990, its transportation emissions have increased.

Energy pricing

Here are some German energy prices.

Basic electricity rate: $0.32 U.S./kWh (Eurostat Statistics Explained)

Time of Use Rate: No (The smart meter program begins in 2017 and won’t be complete until January 2032.)

Gasoline Price: $1.47/L ($5.56/gallon US)  (


The German government has adopted an incentive and investment program to encourage a switch to PEVs. Additionally, it has approved a push for a Europe-wide ban on ICE cars by 2030. No EU law has resulted, but it has generated some publicity in favour of PEVs.

  • Ownership tax—10-year exemption for BEVs registered before 2016 and a 5-year one for BEVs registered between 2016 and 2020. PHEVs pay the tax, which is lowered in proportion to their lower CO2.
  • Grants—4,000 euros ($4,950 US) for pure electric cars and 3,000 euros ($3,713 US) for hybrids. The grant applies only to cars up to a maximum list price of 60,000 euros ($74,250 US).
  • Private use of company cars—The tax on the taxable benefit to employee income is reduced by a formula involving the capacity of electric energy storage in the vehicle.
  • Minor incentives
    • BEVs exempt from emissions inspection
    • Low interest loans for companies to purchase PEVs
  • Preferential or free parking, access to HOV lanes, and restricted traffic zones for low emission vehicles (electric range of 40 km or more).


Funding for electric vehicle charging infrastructure primarily relies on private-public partnerships. The average number of charging stations in Germany is 0.19 for every 1,000 registered vehicles. The following map shows the density of chargers.

Charging point density in Germany

Charging point distribution in Germany, Courtesy icct

What’s working?

Direct Incentives

Norway seems to have the most features that are working. As of July 2016, the number of PEVs for every 1,000 citizens in Norway was 21.52, while the United States average was 1.52—that’s 14.2 times higher for Norway.

A Norway EV driver poll identified the tax exemptions for PEVs as the number one incentive. The high tax the Norwegian government charges for high emission ICE vehicles and the exemptions for PEVs bring the PEV prices very close to those of ICE vehicles.

The revenue from those high emission taxes significantly covers the costs of the PEV exemptions. This has led to less complaining about PEV subsidies compared to North America exemptions.

The other significant thing from Norway’s experience is that the prices of PEVs have decreased even though the level of exemptions has remained the same.  This seems to indicate that the incentives are working to produce competitive prices.

The drop in PEV sales in the Netherlands with the reduction of a tax exemption indicates the influence of direct incentives. Additionally, France experienced a large growth in PEV sales from 2014 onward after it introduced its super bonus—PEV sales tripled each year after that.

France was smart in using their tax on high emitting vehicles to pay for the PEV incentives. It’s doing exactly what a carbon tax should do.

Energy pricing

Norway with the largest market penetration of PEVs has the lowest electricity rate and the highest gasoline prices. France and the Netherlands (the other two countries with cumulative sales of over 100,000) have similar electricity rates although their gasoline prices are only slightly higher than the UK and Germany. All five countries are in the top third of European countries with the highest gasoline prices.

Indirect incentives

Indirect incentives indicate a change of attitude, which can influence the acceptance of electric cars in less transparent ways. Much of Norway’s success comes from attitude. The Norwegian government has been committed to PEVs for over 25 years and the education and promotion has had a large influence. Low hydro prices combined with high gas prices must also have an influence. It’s difficult to say that the tax exemptions could be as efficient in other countries because the social outlook of Norwegians makes them more accepting of high taxation than many countries in today’s atmosphere of smaller governments.

Perhaps indirect incentives become significant when the price of a PEV approaches that of a conventional vehicle.

Charging superstructure

The two countries (Norway and the Netherlands) with the most PEVs also have the largest number of charging stations, but it’s difficult to prove that this is a deciding factor when we see the rapid growth of PEVs in France. However, prevalence of anxiety around charging is also a real issue.

Charging anxiety is directly related to the availability of charging points—will there be a lineup because there aren’t enough chargers?  Combine this with range anxiety (can I make it to a charger before the battery goes dead?) and countries can’t ignore the importance of infrastructure especially for highway trips.

In most of these countries, this anxiety is emerging as a growing preference for plug-in hybrids over battery electric vehicles. Perhaps that is a reasonable expectation for a transition from ICE vehicles to pure electric, but it does reduce the full impact on emissions reductions.

Although this survey doesn’t reveal a “silver bullet” for the adoption of electric vehicles, it does indicate that it would be detrimental to remove or reduce the current incentives. Any incentive that can bring the purchase price of an EV close to that of a conventional vehicle could trigger a significant surge in sales.

The current achievements may seem far from the goals, but is it possible that one of these countries is approaching “critical mass”—poised at the bottom of the “S-curve” for an EV explosion?

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John Morland
I’m a wanna-be musician, kayaker, sailor, and back-country camper just trying to reduce my environmental footprint one small step at a time. I also write on my personal blog:
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