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Norway electric car sales smash records

Norway's electric car market boomed in March, with sales of the environmentally friendly vehicles accounting for a record one in five of all cars registered, a national traffic group said Wednesday.

Norway electric car sales smash records
Electric cars charging. Photo: NTB/Scanpix
US car maker Tesla set a new record for car sales, with its high-end Tesla S selling more models in one month (1,493 sales) than any car in Norway's history, according to the Information Council for Road Traffic (OFV).
   
At 10.8 percent of all new car registrations, Tesla sold more than twice as many cars as the next most popular choice —  petrol and diesel versions of the Volkswagen Golf (624 sales).
   
Several celebrities have queued up to purchase a Tesla, including Norway's Crown Prince Haakon and former prime minister and incoming Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
   
"I don't often entertain myself with car sale statistics, but this is one I will read as a bedtime story for children," said Frederic Hauge, head of the environmental group Bellona, who also owns one of the cars.
   
Electric cars cornered 20.3 percent of the country's auto market last month, partly due to the  meteoric success of Tesla but also the rising popularity of the Nissan Leaf and Volkswagen e-Up.
   
Norway has introduced a raft of incentives for environmentally friendly cars, including exemptions from high car taxes, toll free driving, free public parking and use of public transport lanes.
   
Critics have argued that promoting clean cars is proving costly and that traffic lanes designed to keep busses moving are filling up with cars.
   
According to the auto website www.bilnorge.no, tax exemptions for Norwegians buying a new Tesla can be as high as $125,000 (91,000 euros) — more than the price of the car which retails at about $103,000.
   
The Norwegian government has pledged to keep the incentives in place until the end of 2017 or until 50,000 electric cars have been sold.
   
And with 26,000 currently on the road, according to the national association of electric cars, they have passed the halfway mark.

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TESLA

Battery of complaints against Tesla in Norway

"I've had the car for eight months and it ran fine for four days," says Yngve Solberg, who like many Norwegians is fed up with the slew of problems his Tesla X has given him.

Battery of complaints against Tesla in Norway
In a tight spot: Tesla has struggled to provide after-sales support that matches the soaring demand for its high-end electric cars. Photo: Damian Morys/Flickr

Tesla has sold more cars per capita in Norway than any other country in the world thanks to the government's generous measures in favour of electric cars including tax exemptions, free city tolls and public parking.

More than 26,000 Tesla S and X models are registered in Norway, according to the website www.teslastats.no.

But Tesla has struggled to provide after-sales support that matches the soaring demand for its high-end electric cars.

As a result, Tesla owners in Norway face long waits for repairs, a shortage of spare parts, difficulty reaching customer services, leading – unsurprisingly – to oodles of complaints.

In the first half of the year, Tesla became the company with the fourth-highest number of complaints registered with the Norwegian Consumer Council. In 2017, it held the 24th spot.

A car enthusiast, Solberg has had a long series of woes with his new Tesla X.

Among the problems he has faced were malfunctioning rear doors and a faulty suspension system. And each time he has faced trouble, it has taken him several months to get an appointment for repairs.

Photo: AFP

“Because of the doors, I couldn't park next to other cars for three months, neither at my work garage nor in my parking spot outside my home. All this with a car that costs 1.1 million kroner (€115,000, $133,000),” he bristled.

On an online forum for the Norwegian Association of Electric Cars, another Tesla owner said he was so frustrated he ended up taking his car to Danish capital Copenhagen to replace a faulty suspension arm. He has also been waiting for new seats for 13 months.

Musk says Norwegians are right

These are not isolated cases. A survey conducted by the Tesla Owners Club Norway indicates that 38 percent are dissatisfied with the company's after-sales support, compared with 57 percent who are satisfied.

“Norwegians are right to be upset with Tesla,” admitted Tesla chief executive Elon Musk.

“We are having trouble expanding our service facilities in Oslo especially,” he tweeted on July 5.

Photo: AFP

He said the problems could be resolved “quickly” if Norway would give the green light for mobile service vans able to provide repairs at clients' homes.

Tesla is in talks with authorities with a view to adapting this service to national regulations, which strictly define car repair shops.

The problems are particularly troublesome for Tesla, as Norway is a seen as a global testing ground for electric cars.

The Scandinavian country, whose electricity is almost exclusively from hydro, aims to stop selling cars running on fossil fuels in seven years — by 2025.

Tesla is therefore doubling its efforts to meet Norway's needs.

The company's spokesman in the Nordic region, Even Sandvold Roland, said after-sales support staff has already been augmented by 30 percent this year, additional shifts have been set up in some places, and a new repair centre is due to open shortly in Oslo.

'Growing pains'

“Things are improving,” said Satheesh Varadharajan, the head of the Association of Tesla Owners. “It's positive, though we're still a little concerned about whether it's going quickly enough.”

Keen to participate in the technological breakthrough the Californian company is offering, many motor enthusiasts are affording Tesla a patience they would not normally grant a conventional carmaker.

“Early adopters show a lot of understanding and accept that things take a little time, that there are growing pains. No other group has grown as much as quickly,” stressed Varadharajan.

Despite the many frustrations, Yngve Solberg still has faith in Tesla and has reserved a Model 3, the company's first car targeting the mass market.

But Solberg said his faith had limits.

Tesla has had trouble ramping up production of the Model 3, and “if it's the same chaos that I've experienced these past eight months, then, no.”