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Feature: Electric cars in Norway make headway mixed with growing public debate

DRAMMEN, Norway, April 20 (Xinhua) -- No purchase taxes, no VAT, no charges on toll roads, no fees at public parking spaces, free charging at municipal stations, and the right to use bus lanes.

These are the reasons behind booming sales of electric cars in Norway, which has far more electric vehicles per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Monday marks the day 50,000 electric cars have been registered in Norway. It comes as a glory day for these eco-friendly vehicles, but might also indicate more public pressure to reduce the generous incentives.

In a ceremony held here, a port city some 40 km southwest of Oslo, a new Tesla electric car with the license plate EL60000 was delivered to a customer, a significant number as the number series of electric vehicles in Norway started with EL10000.

"The sales (of electric vehicles) have been more than doubling each year and so far this year more than 20 percent of all new cars sold in Norway have been electric vehicles. That's amazing," Christina Bu, general secretary of the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association, told Xinhua.

In Norway, a country with a population of 5.1 million and 2.5 million registered passenger cars, 50,000 electric cars boasts a market penetration of 2.0 percent of its total registered fleet, by far the highest in the world.

In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from traffic, the Norwegian authorities introduced the tax breaks and other perks for electric car buyers and expected to keep the incentives until 2017, or until 50,000 electric cars are registered.

But the electric vehicle market developed much faster than the Norwegian authorities had expected and as more and more electric cars are on the roads, criticism has arisen, particularly about the non-fiscal incentives.

According to local media reports, some have complained about high public subsidies as compared to the value of the reduced carbon footprint, traffic congestion in some bus lanes, increasing loss of revenue for some ferry operators and the shortage of parking spaces for owners of conventional cars.

Norwegian political parties in parliament have been discussing the issue and no agreement has been made so far.

Local media reports expected some non-fiscal incentives might be adjusted, but the benefits of purchasing electric cars would remain, at least until 2017.

In the generous package of incentives to get car buyers off fossil fuel, tax exemption is the biggest one as taxes in Norway can double or even triple a car's purchase price.

"Overall they (Norwegian politicians) say it's important to keep most of the incentives for a few more years. Because if we take them away now, the market could collapse," said Bu, whose association was the organizer of the ceremony in Drammen.

"We are working a lot and talking to the politicians about the importance of this. We heard now recently that they would not do anything with the VAT or the taxes, at least not before 2017, and we are very glad," she said.

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