Electric cars are on a roll, sort of. The number of such vehicles in Ukraine has risen to 693 from 59 two years ago. But Nazar Shymone-Davyda, the founder of the Tesla Club Ukraine, a nonprofit dedicated to popularizing electric cars, estimates that there are as many as 1,000 electric cars now being driven in the country.

People should “get rid of their prejudices” and switch to electric vehicles, Shymone-Davyda told the Kyiv Post. “They’re simply better cars.”

Reasons to buy

The common “prejudices” that dissuade car customers are low performance and high cost, but these are outweighed by the benefits, Shymone-Davyda said.

Saving money on fuel is a plus, but not the main reason for going electric, he said. “People calculate the hryvnias they will save (on fuel), but that’s not right,” he said. “You also buy a good car. Low expenditure (on maintenance) is an additional bonus.”

Shymone-Davyda bought the first automobile in Ukraine from the U.S. electric car company Tesla Motors Inc. in 2014. Now that he has his electric car, there’s no going back to petrol-engine cars, he said.

“It’s impossible to get back behind the wheel of a petrol-driven car once you’ve got used to driving an electric car,” he said. “It runs silently, flexibly and fast.”

Price comparison

Some car buyers also expect electric cars to cost less and are turned off when they see the price tag.

“It does cost more, but reasonably so, and not that exaggeratedly,” Shymone-Davyda said. “You’ll spend the same amount of money on repairs as you would on a regular car. And when you buy one, you’re paying for better quality, not just for an electric engine.”

A Tesla Model S 70D with a 480-kilometer battery range costs about $67,000, including shipping, value-added tax in Ukraine and all the required documentation. The Nissan Leaf, the most popular electric car in Ukraine, costs a lot less – about $32,000. Its electric motor is about the same size as a three-liter petrol engine, and it can travel 223 kilometers without charging.

While the Nissan Leaf and Renault Fluence Z.E. can be serviced in Ukraine, other brands, including Tesla, have to be sent to Vienna or Berlin for serious repairs.

Recharging

The number of free electric vehicle charging stations in Ukraine is growing, but they’re mostly concentrated in the biggest cities: Kyiv (53), Kharkiv (28), Lviv (19), Odesa (14), and Dnipropetrovsk (8).

“A lot of people here think that there’s a shortage of charging stations,” Shymone-Davyda said. “You need to understand that if you’re just driving about town, it’s absolutely convenient and sufficient to charge the car at home. Since I bought an electric vehicle I’ve never had any problems traveling around.”

But for longer journeys, electric car owners have to check in advance where they can recharge, he said.

To charge a car from a regular 220-volt socket takes up to 20 hours, depending on battery capacity. The estimated cost of charging a car per hundred kilometers is less than Hr 10 (38 cents).

High-power direct current charging stations can fully charge a car battery in minutes, but there aren’t any in Ukraine yet.

In winter, 10-20 percent of the battery energy will be used for heating the car interior.

Government help

To encourage city dwellers to buy zero-emission electric cars, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Dec. 16 signed a bill on Nov. 25 to slash the 10 percent customs duty on imported electric cars to zero, starting from January this year.

“Moreover, the excise duty is also quite low,” Shymone-Davyda said. “Nobody seems to notice it – it’s currently about 110 euros.”

A further step to encourage more people to import electric cars would be to cut value-added tax, Shymone-Davyda said. “But this isn’t common world practice,” he said. “Only Norway has no VAT.”

But Sergey Baydachny, deputy sales director at automobile distributor and retailer NIKO Ukraine, says Ukraine is still lagging other nations in encouraging drivers to go electric.

According to Avere France, a professional association, about 12,000 electric cars were sold in Germany in 2015. And this year the German government will subsidize car sales by up to 5,000 euros per vehicle. The U.K. government already does this, handing buyers £5,000 on each sale. France is even more generous, returning from 6,500 to 10,000 euros to buyers of electric cars.

So the road ahead for electric cars in Ukraine depends to a large extent on government policy, Baydachny said. And that road looks bumpy.

“I think Ukraine’s authorities aren’t interested…Unfortunately, a technocratic government hasn’t come to power. So the same interests – mostly of the petrol fuel market – are being lobbied for.”

He said cancelling VAT on electric cars will stimulate imports of environmentally friendly vehicles, lower fuel imports and bring health benefits from reduced emissions.

This story first appeared in the Kyiv Post, a syndication partner of Ukraine Digital News.

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