It is easy to snicker at this story, but it touches on all the political issues that apply to electric and plug-in cars at the moment. Which comes first, the cars or the infrastructure to charge them? How powerful should the chargers be and who should pay for them? Why install chargers at all if there are not enough electric cars on the roads to utilize them?
While political leaders in North America, Europe, and Asia agonize over whether to provide government incentives for electric cars and charging infrastructure, the Russian government has cut the Gordian Knot by simply issuing a decree ordering all gasoline stations to install electric chargers by November 1, 2016.
The Electric Car Market In Russia
Let’s get a little perspective on the electric car market in Russia at the moment. First, there are no government incentives that encourage a person to buy an electric or plug-in car. Second, there are fewer than 500 such cars in the entire country. Recently, out of nearly 60,000 used cars listed for sale in Moscow on the popular website auto.ru, only 18 were electric cars, 13 of which were Teslas with price tags ranging from about $60,000 to $180,500. The cheapest electric car on sale in Moscow was a 2011 Mitsubishi i-MiEV offered at $12,000.
Mitsubishi was the first to offer electric cars in Russia. Its i-MiEV went on sale in 2011. As of July, Mitsubishi had sold precisely 217 cars. Russian domestic car manufacturer AutoVAZ started producing an ecologically friendly car, the EL Lada. As of July, a total of 49 EL Ladas had been sold, according to Autostat.
Sales Are Declining
If previously the number of electric cars was growing very slowly in Russia, this year the market has shown a decline. In the first half of the year, fewer than 50 electric cars were sold in the entire country. That’s down 25% compared to the same period last year. But there is currently nowhere in Moscow where a prospective electric car owner can go to purchase an EL Lada, and it’s not clear whether a pre-ordering system exists or how long it would take to actually get one says The Moscow Times.
Andrei Toptun, head of the Autostat car market research agency, says, “The issue of electric cars is irrelevant in Russia. We have a huge territory and fewer cars than many other countries, so there is simply no need to develop the idea of electric cars on a nationwide scale.”
One of the major drawbacks for electric cars in Russia is the country’s harsh winters. Batteries need to be preheated in order for the car to get anything like maximum range. That’s less of a problem if the car is kept plugged in to level 2 or higher charger, but such chargers are rare in Russia.
Chargers Are Expensive
And expensive. Maxim Osorin, general director of Revolta Motors, which sells electric cars and operates a chain of electric vehicle charging stations in and around Moscow says the cost of setting up a charging station starts from 100,000 rubles ($1,480). Those stations take up to 9 hours to charge an electric car.
Modern fast-charging stations, which can charge a car in half an hour, cost around 3.5 million rubles ($51,720) in Russia, he says. The decree not only orders gas station owners to purchase the charging equipment, it also requires them to pay for the installation and grid connection, Osorin says.
The Bottom Line
The decree does not specify which type of charger a station owner must install. If the relationship between Russian citizens and government bureaucracy is the same in Russia as it is in the rest of the world, station owners will elect to install the cheapest possible equipment and it will never get used because no one wants to wait 9 hours for charging. Therefore, the decree will be an utter failure.
But it’s impossible to argue with duly constituted authority. If a station owner asks the government to be exempt from the mandate, the answer will almost certainly be a thundering “Nyet!” Will other countries learn anything from this experiment in government by shortsighted decree? That’s equally unlikely.