In what would be a u-turn by Ford Motor Co., Norway is expecting the automaker to return its U.S. fleet of electric cars to Norway where they were built so that they can be resold to Norwegians.
“I expect Ford will do what is necessary to bring these cars to Norway, and I have asked them to keep me informed on what they are doing," Norwegian Transportation Minister Torhild Skogsholm said in a press release after the company said it was reconsidering the plan to scrap 400 vehicles now in the United States.
"For me this matter is not over today. It is over the day these cars drive on Norwegian roads,” she said.
“It is pointless to destroy more than 400 fully functional and environmentally friendly cars," she added. "There is a great demand for these cars here in Norway, and they can contribute to cleaner air and less pollution in our cities.”
'High demand' recognized
Ford Europe vice president had earlier written saying that “it is with pleasure that I am able to inform you that we have, with immediate effect, stopped any further scrapping of these vehicles.”
“It is very clear to us that there is a high demand for these vehicles in Norway, not in the least because of the high priority and support your government has given to environmentally friendly transport technology,” Ingvar Sviggum added.
Ford executives have also met with Norwegian officials as well as members of Global Exchange, Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network, groups that have been lobbying Ford to save the cars. Greenpeace sent activists into the headquarters of Ford Norway last week, where they unfurled a banner demanding the cars be sent to Norway.
In late-2002, Ford pulled out of the Norwegian company TH!NK Nordic, which built the electric cars, and announced it would stop leasing them in the United States. Ford and other carmakers say electric vehicles suffer from a charging time of several hours and a range of no more than 150 miles before another charge is needed.
That didn't stop the Norwegian company El-Bil Norge from making a cash offer to buy the fleet and resell it in Norway. Last month, company spokesman Hans Kvistle said Ford did not even appear to have considered the request.
The Th!nk Nordic company was taken over by Kamkorp Microelectronics in 2002. About 1,000 of the vehicles have been built.
No sales in United States
Ford had leased the cars to customers for up to three years, as a test fleet in the United States, said Niel Golightly, Ford’s vice president for communications in Europe.
He said it was never the intention for them to be used longer, because Ford only had permission from U.S. federal authorities to test them in the United States for three years.
"Legally, there is no possibility for U.S. customers to extend their leases or purchase these vehicles," Timothy O'Brien, a government relations vice president at Ford's corporate headquarters, said in a statement. "Lessees in the U.S. were made aware of this restriction when they signed their lease agreements."
But given Norway's interest, he added, "we are again looking at ways to overcome obstacles to reusing them in Norway and have agreed to return to the Norwegian Transport Minister with the outcome of our reevaluation within the next few weeks.”