Narvik, a town of about 18,000 people, sits 220km inside the Arctic Circle. From the top of the ski mountain behind the city, you can look out and see nothing but ocean, or, to put it more precisely, the breathtaking Ofotfjord. Narvik is one of the northernmost cities in the world, first inhabited largely because of its port, which remains ice free only because of the warm currents of the Gulf Stream. Here, the mean annual temperature is a frosty 3.8 degrees Celsius. The warm weather lasts a brief three months. The roads are more familiar with snow and ice than they are dry wheels.
Here is also home to a man known around town as “Tesla Jens,” owner of more Tesla vehicles than any other individual in the world.
Jens Kratholm, a 56-year-old ophthalmologist, owns six Roadsters and a Model S. One of the Roadsters he gave to his wife, Ellen Røsnes, as a birthday gift, and the rest he shares among the couple’s six adult children, who drive the cars when they visit Narvik. But Kratholm also lets strangers test drive the vehicles and borrow them while he’s away. He even promotes the test drive opportunities to patients at his clinic.
“If we want to change the habits of people to begin driving electric cars, all the cars must be on the road at all times so people see them,” says Kratholm, who wasn’t interested in cars at all until he read about the Roadster in a glossy newspaper supplement. His previous vehicle was a Volkswagen minivan he had owned for more than a decade.
Kratholm, however, has long been interested in the environment and he always thought it would be great if someone made a good electric car. Conventional cars take too much time and money to fuel and maintain, he says. So one day in 2010 when he read about the Roadster, a purely electric vehicle that gets 244 miles per charge, he thought it sounded fantastic. The nearest Tesla office was in Copenhagen, Denmark, so he called and ordered a Roadster. He didn’t have time to fly down to Copenhagen to see the car in person. Instead, he ordered it sight unseen. “I read about the car and that was enough.”
His wife thought he was crazy. Unlike him, she was a car enthusiast and a Mercedes loyalist. “She thought I was completely stupid,” says Kratholm. “She thought it was the stupidest thing she’d ever heard.”
“He talked about this car for three months,” Røsnes recalls. “I said, ‘Are you crazy? This car doesn’t have an engine! It’s just a play car’.”
Then she discovered how well it drives, how it just sticks to the road, how the traction control makes it superbly manageable in snow, how easily it handles icy hills. “I sat in the car and I drove off and I couldn’t believe it,” says Røsnes, a Formula One fan. “I was so ashamed that I couldn’t understand until then. I didn’t understand that this was possible.”
Jens Kratholm with two of his Roadsters.
A month after Kratholm’s Roadster was delivered, she wanted one too. So Kratholm bought her one. Then he decided the kids needed one to drive when they visited home. So in February 2011, Kratholm and Røsnes went to the opening of the Tesla store in Milan, Italy, to meet Tesla CEO Elon Musk. There, they bought Roadster number three. Number four arrived in the summer, and number five that December. Kratholm got the sixth in spring 2012, and his Model S rounded out the fleet in August 2013.
Kratholm was spending most of his spare money on the cars, but in Norway the investment is not as steep as it first may seem. Electric cars in Norway enjoy government incentives, including free parking, the right to use highway express lanes, and exemption from tolls.
Another advantage that the Roadster and Model S have in Norway, however, is their performance in cold weather driving conditions.
“We found out that it’s a super winter car,” says Jens. “It’s so fantastic. It’s much easier and better than an ordinary car.” He likes that you can heat the Model S remotely via an app, so that there’s no ice or snow on the car when you’re ready to drive it. He also says the winter range is almost the same as the summer range. In December, he and Røsnes took the Model S to an ice hotel in Sweden, 200km from Narvik. The temperature dropped to -40 degrees Celsius. It was so cold that the trains couldn’t operate and the diesel in the buses froze. But the Model S was just fine.
“These cars, they were made for the temperatures, for the snow and the ice that we have,” says Røsnes. She has a farm outside of Narvik that is flanked by a fjord and a glacier. The house has a steep uphill driveway that most cars can’t negotiate in 15cm of snow. “With the Roadster, it just goes on and on,” she says. “When you think it’s going to stop, it just goes on.”
Røsnes, once a devotee to the internal combustion engine, is now a Tesla loyalist. “I feel good because we are really helping something,” she says. “This is the new world. These are the new times.”
Both she and Kratholm are more than aware of the next model to roll off Tesla’s production line: the Model X, due in 2015. So will they be buying Tesla number eight?
We needn’t have asked.
“Yes, of course,” says Kratholm. “I only buy Tesla. There’s no other car in my life.”
Lead photo courtesy of Sverre M.B. Dohmen Photography. Photo of Jens Kratholm supplied by Jens Kratholm.