Electric vehicles: Ukraine’s silent revolution

By Jose Pontes, EV-Volumes

The Beam
The Beam
Feb 16, 2018 · 5 min read

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When I was in college, I had the following question during a Business Strategy exam:

“What is best; to lead a big company or a smaller one?”

Having seen a documentary about dinosaur extinction the day before, I answered: “Depends. In a stable environment, it’s best to be in a big firm, because you have more resources to perfect your products and lead the market, while in a changing environment, it is best to be in a smaller company, because it will have less inertia and will change faster, following the new trends of the market.”

From there, my answer developed into the “Dinosaur Theory”, comparing the fall of dinosaurs to the fall of big companies in disruptive markets, earning the appraise of the teacher that corrected the exam.

For years I remembered this episode as just a stroke of inspiration. That was until electric cars started to rise and it was in smaller markets that the change started to happen, with the only markets to reach the 1% market share in 2012 being Norway (3%), Estonia (2%) and the Netherlands (1%), far from the millions of units that China, the USA, Japan or Germany register each year.

All of a sudden I was seeing the “Dinosaur Theory” unfold in the car industry, with smaller markets leading the shift, while larger ones, possibly dragged down by the local automotive industry, being left behind.

And where does Ukraine’s silent revolution come in?

Back in 2015, I got some sales data from Ukraine and it surprised me that, despite economic difficulties, EVs were selling like hot cakes, thanks to import tax exemptions for electric cars, that allowed the country to leap several steps and be one of the fastest growing markets in the world, as you can see in the graph above.

The article I published was met with big enthusiasm by the supporters of the local EV scene, and I started to have contacts from several people in Ukraine, all with one thing in common: a true passion for EVs and a firm will to change their country’s status quo.

Then in 2016, during the Cleantech Revolution Tour in Berlin, I was lucky enough to meet with some of these grassroot pioneers. One of them was Hanna Yanchuk, from the local EV Association, that presented their efforts to move forward the EV Agenda in Ukraine. Her presentation was inspiring and made me realise that not all incentives to promote EVs need money, some (such as bus lane use or reserved parking) just need political will, reminding me of a phrase that a Portuguese politician said when talking about incentives in my country: “You can ask me for anything, as long as it’s not money”.

What is impressive in the Ukrainian EV-Revolution is that it has been sparked during serious geopolitical and economic problems, where transport electrification wouldn’t be a priority in people’s minds, if it weren’t for these pioneers pushing for it.

In general, a lot of things that were done in Ukraine are not only enthusiastic — they are made by hand, with a lot of stuff being made in garages or private apartments, without special equipment.

Not your regular charging station…

Despite the Eastern Ukraine occupation, coin devaluation and fight on systemic corruption, the local EV market has managed to thrive and even put to shame several of their EU-member neighbours, despite the general lack of money.

But, as Hanna’s presentation in Berlin proved, it’s not all about the money, you can do a lot to promote electric cars by doing non-financial incentives (one I find effective is free parking in city centres), promoting a charging infrastructure (there are some 600 charging stations in Ukraine, more than in neighboring Poland), with local car-sharing companies also helping to educate people on the benefits of EVs.

After becoming the fifth highest PEV market share in 2016, the Ukrainian results continue to improve in 2017, with the PEV share now at 4.5%, three times more than that of the European Union.

Interestingly, looking at the graph above, we can see once again that it is the small and medium markets that lead the change into electrification, proving right the “Dinosaur Theory”, while also showcasing the special case of Ukraine, as the other markets shown in there are a step above when it comes to economic development. So while most countries are watching Norway as their case study, others could see Ukraine’s success story as an example for their own electrification efforts.

That is why I believe that “spreading the word” on the Ukrainian success story, and breaking the general silence in the media surrounding it, could benefit others elsewhere, as it is a model easier to replicate in developing countries across the world.

But to fully benefit from the energy independence and decarbonisation that EVs provide, Ukraine needs to get off fossil-fuel energy sources. The country did set ambitious goals, to increase the share of renewable energy from the current 1.5% (yes, that low) to 11% in 2020, still low, but not far from the 2020 objective of its western neighbor Poland (15% share).

At a 4.5% share, the Ukrainian EV market is now leaving the warm comfort of the enthusiast’s niche and entering the less EV-friendly mainstream market. Will it continue to succeed? No one really knows, but based on the enthusiastic passion that many there have, I would bet that Ukraine’s EV Revolution will remain at the forefront of the global electrification efforts.

This reminds me of President Kennedy’s famous words: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country”.

Ukrainian EV pioneers seem to have been following JFK’s words bit by bit…

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