While electric vehicle adoption in Europe is strong, it’s not evenly spread across the continent or even just among the EU countries. Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Germany, they (and some other countries) all have strong stories of electric vehicle adoption. A look at charging station maps (see my list of smartphone apps) shows the Netherlands has an envy-inducing intensely dense charging station network. But browse to other segments of Europe, like Eastern Europe, and the story is different. I want y’all to meet a man living in Romania who’s looking to change this and introduce electric cars well away from the richer corners of Europe.
Marc ARENY is a French/Spanish/Catalan man who’s currently living in Pitesti, Romania. While living in France he converted a Porsche 944 to electric drive, and going by a video of the car it has lots of power. Unfortunately French officials wouldn’t homologate the car, meaning it isn’t licensed and can’t be driven on the street. He’s now living in Romania, where he’s converted a Dacia Logan, and has started a business through which to sell EV conversion kits and parts.
American’s might not know of the Dacia car company – the brand is now owned by French carmaker Renault, but it’s originally a Romanian company. The name, Dacia, refers to the original culture of the land now known as Romaina – the Dacians, an ancient culture predating the Greeks and contemporaneous with the Thracians. But let’s not get too diverted by ancient history … we have a modern story to tell.
A video from December 2014 shows Marc Areny’s Logan tooling around the parking lot of the Pitesti Dedeman (Dedeman is a store much like Lowes in the U.S.). Another shows him and another person driving around talking about the car. These videos are all in Romanian, but even if you don’t understand the language you’ll get the sense that this conversion is very well executed. The components under the hood are well laid out, and the performance is very good.
With electric vehicles growing so much in popularity, why is Marc Areny working to build an EV conversion business? Why not wait? The manufacturers are making electric cars today, and as the cost per mile of range drops in the coming years EV’s are destined for a huge upswing in popularity.
Remember I said earlier that the EV revolution is not evenly spread? There’s lots and lots of areas in the world where EV’s simply don’t exist. Or, if they do exist, it’s still at the stage of enthusiasts building their own EV in their garage. Romania is one of those countries.
Marc Areny explained to me he disagrees with Tesla Motors strategy of starting with high end cars nobody can afford. His goal is to develop a low cost electric car that anybody can afford. In an interview on the EcoProfit.ro website, he goes into more details (the interview is in Romanian – but, use Google Chrome to read the site, and it will offer you a translation that’s not too bad). In a companion article the interviewer writes a test/drive/review piece going into details of the car. It has a 30 cell pack of 200 Ah Sinopoly cells, for a 96 volt pack at 19.2 kiloWatt-hours total storage, and 150 kilometers driving range. One of Areny’s friends is driving the car 60 kilometers per day, and it’s been reliable for 6+ months.
In the interview, he explained having grown disturbed thinking about how the low cost for Diesel fuel in France is because poor people in Libya or Iraq were being exploited. Looking for alternatives he bought a Diesel car and started using straight vegetable oil (gathered from restaurants). He then started researching electric vehicles, built the Porsche 944 conversion, learned a lot, then developed the Dacia Logan conversion.
He chose the Dacia Logan explicitly because it’s an affordable car – making it theoretically possible to convert/recycle used Logans into electric vehicles and keep the final price below 15,000 euro’s. A used donor Logan can be had for a 1-2 thousand euros, giving room in the final price for parts and labor and profit.
But, as I said, the EV Revolution isn’t evenly spread around the world. It’s not just EV’s, but also other clean technologies like solar power. Where I sit in Silicon Valley, we have electric vehicles galore. Having spent a month in Romania two years ago, I know there are essentially no electric vehicles, and the electric car purchase price premium is a big hurdle.
Even though Romania is a wonderful country filled with great people, it’s one of the poorest countries in Europe. It’s likely the automakers aren’t even trying to bring EV’s there, despite the good intentions of AVER (the Association for Promoting Electric Vehicles in Romania), because of the economics.
But are electric vehicles actually more expensive when you factor in ownership costs? This is what Marc Areny is looking at – the potential to save so much money with an electric car to pay off the car’s total cost within a 1-2 years.
He explained to me the goal is to start building electric taxicabs – because taxi’s are driven enough miles per year to enable the savings I just described. I’ve written about this the electric vehicle price-versus-cost question extensively elsewhere on this site, and even have an example of the potential of taxicab’s to pay for themselves in fuel savings.
Electricity is a much much cheaper car fuel than gasoline or diesel. This is measured by calculating the cost of fuel (whether gasoline or electricity) to go a given distance. There are some wrinkles, for example gasoline costs might be low at one time – the price plummeted last winter because OPEC is manipulating global oil markets – limiting the cost savings potential. But even with relatively low gasoline prices it might cost 8 cents a mile for gasoline and 3 cents a mile for electricity. And over the long term gasoline prices are destined to go up and up.
In other words, someone who drives a LOT can save a LOT by having an electric car. Like, a taxicab owner. There’s a LOT of taxicab’s in Romania.
Even though the typical Romanian can’t afford an electric car, perhaps the typical taxi company could so long as the owner is able to grok the economics.
That might be enough to for Marc Areny to launch a successful business. He’s not relying on this one business, however. Back in France he’s started another one building battery pack systems for golf carts. The typical cart has a heavy lead acid pack, and he believes there’s a market to replace those with modern lithium-ion packs then plow the profits from that business into EVRomania.
In the meantime the market for an affordable (10,000 euro) electric car is wide open, because all the automakers are focusing on a higher price point.
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