While the number of electric cars in Russia is on the upswing, they remain a rare sight

Bellona's e-car charger in Murmansk.
Bellona's e-car charger in Murmansk.

Publish date: February 12, 2020

Written by: Anna Kireeva

With each passing year, the number of electric cars sold in Russia is growing exponentially, but it is still to early to suggest the country is undergoing an EV revolution.

With each passing year, the number of electric cars sold in Russia is growing exponentially, but it is still to early to suggest the country is undergoing an EV revolution.

According to data from McKinsey, 2.2 million electric cars had been sold worldwide by the end of 2019. The Russian market for electric vehicles grew by two times last year, amounting to 353 new EVs sold. Small though that number is, it amounts to a 145 percent increase over the previous year, when 144 new electric cars were sold.

But the market for used electric cars is where the figures explode. According to Autostat, Russia’s vehicle information analytics agency, used electric cars accounted for 3303 sales in 2019. That’s 48 percent more than the 2237 sold in 2018.

As for new sales, 75 percent of the Russian market for new electric cars went to the crossover Jaguar I-Pace and the Nissan Leaf. Tesla lagged far behind. While the crusading automaker sold 387,000 units worldwide last year, in Russia it sold only 81.

Overall, the most popular electric car in Russia last year was, as before, the Nissan Leaf. In total, 3,123 Nissan Leafs sold in Russia in 2019. The overwhelming majority of them – at 3051 units – were right-hand drive models imported from Japan. In the area of new electric cars sold, the city of Moscow takes the lead with 115. The Far Eastern Primorsk Region ties for second with the Moscow Region – the administrative area surrounding, but not including, the capital city ­– each with 25. St Petersburg came third, with 18 new electric vehicles.

As for where the used electric vehicles are ending up, Siberia’s Irkutsk region leads the market. Last year, 405 local residents got the keys to vehicles like this. In the Primorsk Region, 387 people purchased used electric cars. The third largest market for used electric cars was the southern Krasnodar Region, with 235 sold. Next comes the Khabarovsk Territory with 124 and the Krasnoyarsk Region with 114. The city of Moscow, surprisingly, was only seventh in the list of used electric cars sold, with 122. The surrounding Moscow Region was eighth with 109. In other regions, the number of used electric cars didn’t surpass 100.

tesla-charger1 A Tesla Model X on Bellona's charger in Murmansk. Credit: Courtesy of Park Inn by Radisson

Iya Gordeyeva, who heads up Russia’s Association for Development of Electric, Unmanned and Connected Transport and Infrastructure (AETI), said that despite Russia’s impressive figures for electric car growth, the number of electric cars sold hardly compares with sales of traditional vehicles.

“Basically, Russians buy electric vehicles as a second family car,” she says. But if Russia were to develop a systematic approach to transitioning to electric cars, says Gordeyeva, that situation might change. As it stands, Russian legislation has failed to carve out incentives for electric car ownership, as has been the case in most European countries.

“So far, we really have neither tax breaks nor subsidies, and charging infrastructure is lagging behind,” say Gordeyeva. “But the main reason is, of course, the high cost of electric vehicles.”

Different countries are pursuing various measures to stimulate electric car sales. The European Union, for instance, has introduced serious restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions, which are tightening each year. Many countries have likewise announced plans to ban internal combustion engines, some within the decade.

Many countries also offer subsidies to buyers of electric cars. In Germany, electric car buyers will receive as much as €6,000 back on the cost of an electric car in the form of tax rebates. In China, more and more cities are making electric car use more convenient. In the United States, electric car drivers receive a tax deduction for as much as $7,000 for purchasing electric vehicles. Eleven US states have meanwhile adhered to the Zero Emissions Vehicle, or ZEV, program, which requires automakers to sell electric cars in their jurisdictions. Norway remains the world leader in the sheer number of electric cars on its road – a position it has staked out thanks to generous state policies favoring electric cars, which make ownership of gas-powered vehicles cumbersome and expensive.

“In our country, there are some incentives and others are being developed,” says Gordeyeva. Moscow, in particular, has cancelled parking fees and transport taxes for electric car owners, she says. But the Ulyanovsk Region, 800 kilometers to Moscow’s east, has taken efforts to a new level.

“Not only have they canceled the transport tax,” says Gordeyeva. “They have created a working group that will deliver a whole host of measure – all official vehicles will be electric, all transport will run on electric traction, and they plan to develop a network of charging stations.”

But it’s worth nothing that, in Russia, the number of electric cars doesn’t always depend on the number of chargers to charge them.

“You can’t directly compare electric cars and charging stations,” says Gordeyeva. Vladivostok, for instance, has always been home to the biggest number of electric cars in Russia – despite the fact that public charging stations there have been nearly absent. The majority of these vehicles are right-hand drives imported from Asian and remain inexpensive for Russian consumers. Now, thanks to the swelling number of used EV, Vladivostok and other nearby towns have 10 new charging stations.

“This is big news for the region and a bigger incentive for city residents to switch to electric cars. The area has the biggest number of electric vehicles,” says Gordeyeva.

But the situation in St Petersburg is different. While that Northern capital has two electric cars to each public charger, the number of electric cars in the city is not growing.

The Murmansk region offers a similar example. In 2017, Bellona established a charging station at the city’s Park Inn-Polyarny Zory hotel. For the next couple of years thereafter, a steady stream of foreign tourists driving electric cars appeared on the hotel’s doorstep. Yet the number of electric cars owned by Murmansk residents has not increased.

These examples would seem to prove that, in Russia, the number of charging stations is, at best, an inaccurate measure of how many electric cars there are in a given area. But any of these situations could be improved if a modicum of benefits were introduced to support electric car ownership – benefits like tax breaks and other subsides common to other European countries. Meanwhile the cost of electric cars continues to fall. But for the moment, electric cars in Russia remain the domain of those enthusiasts who can see a future in them.