The number of electric cars in Russia exceeded 10,000 by the end of January 2021, represented by 18 models from 14 brands. However, despite a considerable increase from about 6,000 a year before, Russia is not even in the top 25 markets for electric vehicles. This, according to the ranking team, mainly has to do with Russia not having an official representative office of the largest electric car manufacturer, Tesla, or other global brands that make electric vehicles.
Neither does Russia offer strong motivation to buyers of electric vehicles, and most customers predictably make their choice in favor of an internal combustion engine.
An incentive package under the Federal Law on Environmentally Friendly Transport has been in the works for a few years and is unlikely to be adopted until 2023, according to expert estimates. On the other hand, many European Union countries have been rewarding motorists who opt for electric versions with wide-ranging benefits and incentives for a few years. In Austria and Germany, owners of electric vehicles enjoy free parking in the city center and use toll roads at a discount. Finland and Sweden provide preferential loans for the purchase of electric cars. In Norway, you can trade in your old fossil-fuel car and get its full market value as well as a subsidy of up to 10,000 euros to buy an electric one since 2018.
With enough political will, this experience can also be applied in Russia. At the same time, one needs to keep in mind the long distances between cities and towns in Russia — unlike in Europe — as well as the sparse charging infrastructure; Russia only has a few dozen charging stations.
The prospect of ending up with a dead battery hundreds, or maybe thousands of kilometers from a city big enough to have a charging station, especially in a region where temperature drops below 30–40 degrees Celsius in winter, predictably motivates even most open-minded motorists to buy conventional gasoline or diesel, or hybrid cars again and again.
Colder weather is also a problem with battery-operated cars. It is not about having your heating on and spending your battery much faster. The operating temperature for lithium-ion batteries used in modern electric vehicles is from 0 to 30 degrees Celsius, and they lose some of the energy in a colder environment. The lower the battery charge, the higher the chances that the car will not cover the distance planned. Remember how your cell phone dies in the cold?
All these factors drag down the mass demand for electric cars in Russia. Still, there are high chances that this segment of the car market in Russia will show steady growth. In the next four or five years, electric cars and hybrids will be seen much more often in big Russian cities.
Moscow and St Petersburg with their better-developed infrastructure will become strong leaders for electric car traffic. Vladivostok will surely be third and a leader for recycling used Japanese electric cars.
Until there is proper infrastructure in other Russian cities, the interest in electric cars will remain low.
By Maxim Chernyayev, PhD (Economics), Associated Professor of the Department of Economics, People’s Friendship University of Russia; Timofei Mazurchuk, expert of the Department of Economics, People’s Friendship University of Russia