Although Norway has consistently been rated as one of the world’s best countries to live in, trucking there is no easy task, thanks to endless snow and bad roads. With history dating back to the Vikings in the 9th century, this country is harsh and rugged – but beautiful. Because of these adversities, the people of Norway have always had to be hard-working and resourceful. With free healthcare for all, low unemployment rates and plenty of space, Norway has many luxuries, but you wouldn’t know that based on the conditions of most of their roads.
Norway is a long (1,100 miles) and narrow country, with a total area of 148,747 square miles (about the size of Montana), and just over 5 million people. The country shares 1,000 miles of their eastern border with Sweden, along with smaller sections with Finland and Russia to the northeast. On its western and southern side, Norway has an extensive coastline, facing the Northern Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea.
For several years now, Norway has been ranked as the best place to live in the world based on several indicators like life expectancy, education, income and level of happiness and satisfaction. Norway is also considered to be one of the most developed democracies in the world. According to the Constitution of Norway, which was adopted in 1814 and inspired by the United States’ Declaration of Independence and French Revolution of 1776 and 1789, respectively, Norway is a unitary constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government, wherein the King of Norway is the head of state and the Prime Minister is the head of government. Power is separated among the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government, as defined by the Constitution, which serves as the country’s supreme legal document.
The petroleum industry accounts for around a quarter of the country’s GDP (gross domestic product). On a per-capita basis, Norway is the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas outside of the Middle East. To shore-up the country’s financial resources and prepare for the future, the government of Norway created the Norwegian Oil Fund in 1996 which is essentially a savings account that is owned by the people of Norway. This fund gets its money from Norway’s oil and gas production industry and invests it around the world. Today, this rainy-day pot of cash has grown to almost 1 trillion US dollars, which will be used to fill any budget deficits the country might see in the future.
The public roads in Norway have varying standards, to say the least. There are good highways around the big cities, but navigating the smaller roads between these big cities demands special equipment, competent drivers, and a little bit of luck – especially during the winter. To illustrate how tough conditions can be, truckers often break the law to get the job done.
When climbing steep hills on slippery roads, drivers often lift one or two of their axles to put more weight on just one of them to gain traction. By doing this, they are breaking the axle weight regulations, but as long as the trucks make it up the hills, the police do not care. Nowadays, more and more trucks are being equipped with multiple drive axles (6×4), which helps to decrease this problem. Many Norwegian trucks are also fitted with special boxes underneath that drop warm sand in front of the tires, when activated by the driver from the cab, which gives the truck extra traction when it is needed the most.
Another issue for truckers in Norway is the road taxes. Almost every new road, bridge or tunnel becomes a toll road, which the transport industry ultimately pays for. Add to that the cost of diesel, which has reached between $5.00 and $6.00 per gallon in 2016, and you can see that not everything in Norway is perfect. However, by far, the toughest challenge is still the weather.
Way up north, by the North Pole, Norwegian truckers struggle with snow and ice. From October until April, the narrow roads become even more challenging when the temperature dips to -50 degrees, at times. If the weather is too extreme, the authorities may close the road for several days. However, if it is possible, they organize convoys for up to 25 vehicles, which travel at a slow speed, with a snowplow in front and at the back. This is a particularly exciting experience when you almost cannot see the vehicle directly in front of you!
The weight regulations in Norway allow 50 tons on a normal tractor-trailer combination with six axles. A typical Norwegian tractor has the axle combination of 6×2 with a lift axle, or 6×4. The average wheelbase of a European rig is usually under four meters (about 156 inches). Big V8 engines with up to 750 hp and extra torque are typical specs for trucks in this region. Norwegian transport outfits represent one of the largest markets for Scania and Volvo trucks. These two Swedish brands compete to be the market leader in Norway, with between 1,500 and 2,000 trucks sold each year, followed by Mercedes, MAN, DAF and Iveco. The Norwegian market accounts for just over 4,000 trucks sold per year.
Unlike the United States, Norwegian and European authorities regulate the total length of a combination, not just the trailer. That is why cabovers rule the market in Norway, because every inch in front of the windshield is stealing from the payload. Only enthusiasts buy trucks with hoods. Luckily, there are still several of them in the country. There are also shops around Europe that will make whatever the customer wants or needs, such as custom cabs, extra accessories, and fancy paint. It is not a job, it is a lifestyle, these custom truck owners say.
Another great challenge for the Norwegian transport companies today is the competition from the new EU-countries in Eastern Europe. They have significantly lower costs, both for equipment and drivers, and can therefore take the transport jobs at a lower price than the Norwegians. But, with their lack of experience and unsuitable equipment, they often make chaos on the roads in the wintertime. While a Norwegian trucker must attend special driving courses to learn how to handle the snow and ice, the Eastern European drivers do not. Foreign drivers, with their standard 4×2 tractors, often get stuck. To prevent the chaos, the authorities require snow chains and winter tires on tractors and trailers, but even that does not always help, because the European trucks just do not have enough weight on their drive axles for grip.
The European Union (EU) has many rules on road transport. Norway is not a part of the EU, but due to a trade agreement, they are obligated to follow the Union’s rules. In addition to the length laws, all trucks are governed at 56 mph, and there are strict regulations on driving times and rest periods. Each truck is equipped with a tachograph (on-board recorder), and each driver has a personal card, which they insert into the machine when in the truck. This card has a chip inside that registers everything they do, and the authorities can easily check it whenever they stop you. The truck tells one story and your card tells another – and they’d better match up, or you can get into serious trouble. Some drivers have made cheating the system a sport, but if they get caught, the fines are big.
With its elongated shape, jagged edges (fjords and bays), and more than 45,000 small islands, Norway is by far not the largest country, but it has one of the longest and most rugged coastlines in the world (over 50,000 miles), second only to Canada, which has twice that. Therefore, Norway is huge in the global fish market. In 2015, they exported seafood worth almost 11 billion dollars, and most of it left the country on a trailer. Being a big player in the breeding of salmon, Norway is a honey-pot for trucking companies all over Europe. Just 20 years ago, Norwegian truckers hauled all that fish to customers across Europe, but nowadays foreign trucks come to Norway to pick up the fish. Being a high-cost country, Norwegian companies cannot compete with their European neighbors.
The transport industry in Scandinavia has changed a lot over the years. Norwegian companies must now deal with tough competition from foreigners when it comes to ordinary cargo, as well. Their only chance is to adapt and specialize their businesses – to provide services that not everyone else is equipped to do. The EU rules allow a foreign company to enter Norway and haul three loads, within a maximum of seven days, but then they must cross the border out of Norway. Therefore, on goods anyone can carry, a Norwegian truck owner struggles to match the price these low-cost foreign companies can offer their customers. It’s a difficult situation.
Norwegian truckers, in true Norse tradition, try to beat their competitors on quality, local knowledge and top equipment – and many do. With fewer accidents, more on-time deliveries and Viking blood in their veins, these resilient truck drivers are still some of the best in the world. And, rest assured, as the world markets and rules change, these industrious Scandinavians will once again adapt and find a way to excel, like they always have in the past.