For another year running, Russia has set records for electric car sales that, shockingly, outpace rates in its EV-hungry Scandinavian neighbors. While the actual number of the emissions-free vehicles on Russian roads is still small, the consistent annual swell in their ownership is remarkable when Moscow’s energy politics aren’t exactly green.
As of January 1, there were 10,836 electric vehicles registered in Russia, representing an overall uptick of 71 percent over last year’s figures.
“This is a more or less significant figure, electric vehicles can already be seen on our roads,” says Sergey Tselikov, director of AUTOSTAT, Russia’s automotive analytics agency.
Putting a figure on how many stations there are to charge those cars is a little more complicated. Various experts and organizations report the figures range from 600 to 1000.
According to the Agency, 687 new electric cars were sold in Russia in 2020, which is 95 percent more than in 2019. The market leader is Tesla cars at 32 percent. Half of these new EVs are registered within European Russia. Another 8 percent are registered in Russia’s Far East.
Moscow leads in new sales, with 240 new electric cars purchased in 2020. St Petersburg follows with 69, and the Moscow region – which includes suburbs of the capital, but not the capital itself – weighed in with 60. Farther to the south, in the Black Sea’s Krasnodar Region, 36 new electric cars were registered. The Far Eastern Primorsky region on Russia’s Pacific coast saw 31 new electric cars registered. The Siberian regions of Sverdlovsk and Novosibirsk saw the purchase of 21 and 20 new electric cars, respectively. The Perm, Irkutsk, Tyumen and Chelyabinsk regions saw a combined total of 10 electric car sales.
Another surprising development was the sales figures for used electric cars. By the end of 2020, 5,237 of those were sold throughout the country, representing a 60 percent increase over the previous year. Of those cars, 93 percent are Nissan Leafs, most of which are right-hand drive vehicles imported to Russia’s Far East from Japan.
“The price is interesting, people like it,” Tselikov said during an online press event. “It’s worth noting that countrywide electrification is coming not from the west but from the east. The Far East is in first place here, Siberia in second, and only then come Russia’s central regions.”
Given the growth in electric car sales over the past several years, Tselikov said he expected the market to continue growing at a rate of one to one and a half times annually.
The past year has also seen a wider variety of electric vehicles come available on the Russian market. If in 2018 only eight makes were on offer in Russia, then by the end of 2020 that almost doubled to 18 different models available from 12 manufacturers. Though that selection is still small, automakers plan to boost those numbers by the end of this year.
Of course, neighboring Europe still dwarfs Russia’s figures. According to Nissan Manufacturing RUS, at the end of 2019, the global electric vehicle market accounted for more than seven million units, the most recent year for which data are available. EU countries expect to see at least 30 million electric cars on their roads by 2030.
And as the list of countries planning to ban the sale emissions-producing vehicles within the next two decades grows, so do the number of automakers who have announced plans to go all electric. General Motors’ plans to scrap production of gas powered cars by 2035 has produced a ripple effect among other automakers scrambling to do the same.
Jaguar says it will go all electric by 2030, and Ford, General Motors’ biggest Detroit competitor, says it will phase out internal combustion engine sales in Europe by 2030.
In Russia, the government has put into for a series of modest measures meant to probe the popularity of electric cars, including a temporary elimination of import taxes on electric vehicles, which will last through this year. Though the measures are not nearly as generous as the kinds of subsidies seen in Scandinavia and most other European countries, they nonetheless offer a more generous framework for getting EVS onto Russian road than were seen as recently as a few years ago.
Still, skeptical voices pushing many familiar and refuted arguments against electric cars continue to hold sway in many Russian media outlets.
Some of the most frequently heard are as follows:
– “Electric cars do not start in cold weather.” Yet, according to Avtostat, Siberia ranks second in the country in terms of the number of newly-registered used electric vehicles.
– “Batteries are a big environmental problem.” There is no such problem yet, but the world community, which is moving to a carbon-free economy, is preparing for the emergence used batteries. Today, several methods are used to recycle used batteries, and clusters for the recycling of batteries are being created, including with Russian companies.
– “Electric cars are very expensive.” This is partly true if you are talking about a new Tesla. But, when we look at the Nissan Leaf and other relatively budget-priced electric vehicles, then prices are comparable those of cars with internal combustion engines.
“Indeed, the voices of skeptics are getting stronger,” says Yury Sergeyev, a senior advisor with Bellona’s Murmansk offices. “There are materials in which they present reasonable but rather one-sided the facts against the electrification of vehicles and loudly declare that this process has no future. Unfortunately, there are a number of factors that fuel such allegations.”
Sergeyev notes that the electric car still remains inaccessible to the typical Russian consumer, something he says emboldens skeptics. But he insists the time for electric cars in Russia is getting ripe.
“In any area, innovations are faced with opposition from adherents of the conservative path of development,” he says. “There are always those who prove that innovation will not bring anything good. And the closer the mass adoption of the new, the stronger their voices. Nevertheless, I am confident that the 2030s will be a turning point in the automotive industry, and we all need to prepare for the new reality now. “