Electric cars have been slow to take off in the Czech Republic. But they now appear to be on a much faster track with energy companies and now top car manufacturer Škoda Auto taking specific steps to put hybrids and full blown electric cars on the roads.
It was once explained to me that electric cars had not taken off as originally expected because car companies had invested so much in the traditional petrol driven engine that they did not want to give it up. But times it seems are a changing, and even the Czech Republic, which has not been in the fast lane of electric vehicle development and production now seems to be getting the hint that it need to plug into the new market. Daily Mladá Fronta Dnes reported Thursday that top Czech car producer Škoda Auto has taken a first significant step with plans to develop hybrid cars – ones that run on both conventional petrol and diesel and electricity – in the next few years. The first model to take the hybrid route will be the top of the range Superb from 2016 with the mid-range Octavia following a year later, according to the report.
News of Škoda Auto’s partial conversion to electric cars comes in a company application to expand its main Czech production site at Mladá Boleslav. A production hall used for producing Octavia and Rapid models will be partially turned over to new hybrid models with expected daily output to reach around 250 cars a day. The hybrid model which Škoda wants to produce is one with the advantage that the electric batteries can be recharged while the car is in use being powered by conventional fuels and not just when it is parked up and can be plugged in.
That could help one of the major obstacles to the take off of full blown electric cars and hybrids in the Czech Republic – the lack of charging points in the country and the fact that cars powered by electricity alone have to be recharged after about 150 kilometers or so. As one possible buyer once told me, that sort of mileage would leave him a few miles short on his weekly trip from Prague to his country home and he did not fancy the walk.
The existing pioneers in providing charging points for electric cars, leading electricity producer and retailer ČEZ and its Prague-based distribution rival, PRE, offer 35 and 28 charging points respectively. Last year, 37 electric cars and 437 hybrids were sold in the Czech Republic, their price tag usually being at least around half a million crowns or around twice as much as a basic bottom of the market conventional car. But the sales prospects are a lot brighter. A study by the consultancy Roland Berger released this week predicted that as many as 250,000 electric vehicles could be on Czech roads within 15 years if the recharging network could be expanded to hundreds of sites across the country and the price of electric batteries brought down further so that electric cars are more affordable. In the short term though, the number of electric cars sold in the Czech Republic is only expected to reach around 7,000 a year in 2020, or around 3.0% of the total market. The market share in some west European countries is expected to rise as high as 10%. ČEZ is expected to sign an agreement with Škoda Auto’s parent company, German cark making giant Volkswagen, on Friday covering stepped up cooperation in the further development and promotion of electric vehicles.
One of the biggest impetuses for electric cars is the expectations that future European legislation will result in much stricter carbon emissions ceilings by 2020 and after.