Gavin Shoebridge – an electric vehicle nut, a keen environmentalist

                Electric Car Conversion Blog By Gavin Shoebridge

September 10th, 2014 at 10:36 am

Why don’t I have an electric car yet?

A rear-engined Skoda 100 in front of Bratislava Castle, Slovakia

I intended to convert one of these: a rear-engined Škoda 100 (pictured in front of Bratislava Castle, Slovakia)

When I moved to Slovakia with my Slovak wife in 2011 I had great ambitions to convert another car to electric power. I’d even mentally chosen the car I wished to convert to run on locally-produced (although mostly nuclear-powered) electrons: the classic Škoda 100 (pronounced shkoda).

Sadly my electric car plans were quickly unplugged when I started looking at the official rules for modifying cars in the Slovak Republic. The laws are outdated and reminiscent of the days of Communism, where cars were seen as a luxury for the few, unlike today. This means that modifying cars in any way is still very much frowned upon and heavily restricted.

All this became evident when I contacted the Ministry of Transport, seeking the official rules. After a few redirections from no-doubt confused staff, I eventually ended up dealing with a person who knew his stuff. For those who have trouble sleeping, here are the rules pertaining to modifying a vehicle’s power source (click to enlarge):

Slovak rules applying to modifying the motive power source (including converting to battery power)

The Slovak rules for modifying a vehicle’s motive power source (including converting to battery power).

This is where my dream started to fall apart, quickly. In a nutshell the conversion would be treated as a rebuild of the car. “Hey, no problem”, you might think? Well, think again. Any vehicle rebuild (or electric vehicle conversion) would need to be pre-approved by a government official. To save explaining it, here are a summary of what the sub-sections say in the above document. It all falls apart at point (4):

(4:) a, b, and c say that the applicant would need to apply beforehand to a government department to start such a conversion and that any such modification in Slovakia would need to be fully documented in detail. Point c reiterates this, asking for pre-determined cabling plans, full wiring diagrams, technical descriptions, parts lists, calculated weight distribution plans, and authorisation from individual part manufacturers that all parts are approved and suitable for the use I intend them for.

Now, anyone who’s ever done a conversion knows that parts are often sourced second-hand, from forklifts, electronic stores, or even fabricated from home-made parts. This rules out getting permission for “improper use” right away.

Additionally, things always change in the middle of a conversion, so this would cause all manner of problems with the somewhat black & white thinking of the Slovak Department of Transport. I could imagine having to reapply from scratch if the plans changed during the conversion, even if I was able to obtain endoresment from all the manufacturers of the parts I wish to use.

Sadly it gets even worse. Point d is the real deal-breaker: súhlasné stanovisko výrobcu alebo zástupcu výrobcu vozidla k prestavbe podľa § 17. This means before I could even begin the conversion, I would need permission from the original manufacturer of the vehicle to convert it.

Sadly cat, they are.

Sadly cat, they are.

This is where all conversions stop. I know of one company here in Slovakia which already tried to convert a vehicle for promotional purposes. They tried following the rules but when it came to this part of the law their dreams fell apart, like mine. They formally applied to the well-known vehicle manufacturer of the vehicle they were converting and they asked for permission to convert it to electric… The vehicle manufacturer said no.

If you were a vehicle manufacturer you’d probably say no too. Who wants some weirdo in a foreign country showing the world that electric cars (something that vehicle company still isn’t interested in) could work well and be cheap? No way; no manufacturer wants to be potentially shown up by a dude in a garage.

It gets worse however.

Even if the planets aligned and I paid someone to draw up diagrams, schematics, and plans, and even if the Transport Department approved it, and even if the car manufacturer said “Sure! Convert that car!”, I would still need the permission of the orgány protipožiarnej ochrany (fire protection authorities), bezpečnosti práce (Health & Safety), regionálne úrady verejného zdravotníctva (Regional Public Health Authorities), and “other bodies”.

Sheesh. Then, to make it even harder, if somehow I got everything organised, approved, and permitted, part (6) says that vehicle conversions have a maximum of 12 months to be completed, ready for inspection. This means you need to get that conversion done quickly. Anyone who’s ever converted a car casually on Sundays will tell you how long it can take. Bad news if you’re busy, delayed, or financially strained at any time during the conversion. You could find yourself running out of time and having to reapply all over again!

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking, “What if you did a conversion in a more car-friendly country, registered it there, then imported it back to Slovakia?”. Well, yes, in theory that could work, but I don’t have enough money to rent a garage in Austria or Poland, and I certainly don’t have enough time and money to fly/drive internationally to work on a €200 car. I just can’t afford that on my wages.

I’ve also been asked, “Why not just do a conversion and not tell anyone it’s electric?”. Well, because I don’t want a criminal record. That would be really really illegal, and if anyone crashes into me (quite likely the way some Slovaks drive) then I would be at fault. Additionally, I wouldn’t be able to pass the two-yearly vehicle inspections either, when they realise my car doesn’t match the paperwork. Driving an illegally converted car would just be a recipe for big problems, court appearances, and massive fines. Honestly, it’s just not worth it.

OK, let's all just take a moment to breathe...

OK, let’s all just take a moment to breathe…

Right now you’re probably pretty frustrated. I know I certainly was. I tried suggesting the Slovak government adopt the New Zealand rules for electric vehicle conversions, as they’re very thorough and strongly focused on safety. I sent a copy and offered to have them professionally translated too, but the official was not interested in changing anything. Sadly this is a common attitude within Slovak governmental organisations. While I love Slovakia (it’s an awesome place!) I do not love the mindset of Slovak officials. They still think like the Iron Curtain is up.

You need to understand that in Slovakia you don’t simply write to your government and arrange to meet with someone to discuss an issue, like you would in New Zealand. It doesn’t work like that here. Governmental stuff in Slovakia are very official, very bureaucratic, very slow, and very inflexible. So you can forget about me launching a campaign to change the laws. It just won’t work. In frustration I even tried writing (unsuccessfully) to the European Union to ask about forcing Slovakia to update its electric vehicle laws. In the end I had to give up; something I hate doing.

The problem remains however: I still really really want an electric car.

Factory-built electric cars like the Nissan LEAF are still really expensive.

Factory-built electric cars like the Nissan LEAF are still really expensive.

So I’ve decided to save up for a factory-built one instead.

These are obviously perfectly legal in Slovakia, but as you know, they’re still very expensive. You can expect to find a good Nissan LEAF with low mileage for around €16,000 ($20,600 USD) over in western Europe which sounds good if you live in Spain or the Netherlands. In Slovakia however the average wage is around €850 ($1100 USD) per month. This explains why there are (at the last count) less than 50 electric cars in the entire Slovak Republic; a country with over five million people living in it.

I’m desperate to get an electric car however, so I started saving in early 2014 with a goal to save €10,000 ($12,900 USD) by mid 2017 and I have my eye on something like a Mitusbishi iMiEV / Peugeot iOn / Citroën C-Zero (they’re all the same vehicle, made by Mitsubishi) as you can pick those up for much less.

See the difference in price? They're going to fall too, while my savings grow.

See the difference in price? They’re going to fall too, while my savings grow.

While I admit they’re a “quirky” looking car, they’d be very sensible in a city like Bratislava which often has very narrow streets. Not only that, they have air conditioning (utterly essential in summer) and a good heater for winter (utterly essential in winter). They also have a four-star Euro-NCAP safety rating (utterly essential considering how “enthusiastic” Slovak drivers are!) and they’re much more affordable than the Nissan LEAF as you can see! Although they’re all over €10,000 at the moment, by the time 2017 comes around they should be much cheaper.

So that’s where we are right now.

I have a long road ahead of me, and saving is difficult on Slovak wages, but I’m determined to get myself driving on electrons as soon as possible. We’re also preparing to build a house here in Bratislava which will have solar panels on the roof to recharge the car! Important when you consider gas here currently costs €1.48 per litre ($7.43 USD per gallon)!

It’s going to be slow-going, saving whenever I can, but I’m going to make it happen. Before you know it I’ll be driving an electric car from Germany, Spain, or maybe France back to Slovakia.

So folks, watch this space and please wish me luck. :)

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9
  • Dennis
    4:57 am on September 11th, 2014 1

    Gavin,

    Good luck to you on your (hopefully soon to be fulfilled) quest to rejoin the rEVolution. (as I understand it, you’ve ALREADY converted a car to EV in NZ).

    Dennis

  • Jean Gaudreau
    6:47 pm on September 16th, 2014 2

    Hi Gavin,

    We just bought one Nissan LEAF a month and a half ago, getting rid of the minivan, as the children are old enough and we don’t need to carry a lot of stuff anymore!

    I’m just glad we did this, it’s been a dream from a long time ago!

    You are the one that made me almost did a conversion, a couple of years ago!!
    I could not do it… but here we are now we a Nissan LEAF 2015 !

    It’s just great!

    I hope you got yours someday!

    Jean Gaudreau
    Drummondville, Québec, Canada

  • Martin
    2:45 pm on September 21st, 2014 3

    Hi Gavin,

    why not go for an older EV like the Peugeot 106 electric or the Citroen Saxo electrique. They can be found for 4-5k€ on the web. (http://www.elektroauto-forum.de/Kleinanzeigen/kategorie.php?kat=1)
    Seven of those old little cars are driving (or will soon) in my area in Austria.
    And that is partly your resonsibility, because you inspired me to start with EV’s.
    Thank you for sharing your Kiwi-EV videos!
    My conversion wasn’t successful, but it led me to these cheap original EV’s.
    Now i’m spending my free time fixing and improving them, trying to get more people into EV’s.

    Regards
    Martin

  • gavin
    2:16 pm on September 24th, 2014 4

    Hi Martin, I did look at those a couple of years ago but I realised none of them have air conditioning – and in 2013 we had two days of 40 degrees Celsius! It’s not a good look to arrive to people’s offices dripping with sweat! :) Also, I think the 150km range is a minimum, and only the newer EVs seem to offer that. I still wish it was more, but only Tesla seem interested in offering longer-range EVs.

  • Eyangelos
    6:29 am on October 14th, 2014 5

    Greetings from Greece Gavin.

    I read your blog entry from the link in this article: https://transportevolved.com/2014/10/14/rumor-tesla-motors-looking-build-european-assembly-plant-slovakia/

    In Greece you can convert an “ice-age” car to electric but only for “educational or research purposes” but you can’t drive it on public roads unless you obtain a “type approval”.
    To obtain a type approval as electric car you have to get the car to some bureaucratic committees to inspect and test it. Part of those tests is a crash test :o
    You can’t be serius :D

    Some of us we will try to convince the government to change those laws.
    Maybe you can help us to obtain the New Zealand rules for electric vehicle conversions or the relevant EU legislation.

    Regards
    Evangelos Michalopoulos
    Athens Greece

  • Sven Påhlsson
    5:57 pm on January 21st, 2015 6

    Check out the many experiences of using EV cars in Norway, we have a large community using EV cars for many years, soon 50 000 EV cars in a population of about 5 million!
    I recently got a Peugeot iOn, a great little car that works very well, highly recommended!

    Sincerely
    Sven Påhlsson
    Norway

  • Marius
    8:42 am on December 8th, 2015 7

    Hello,

    Just great, I’ve red your blog about going to EV in New Zealand. Also you’re so right about Slovak officials too! In Romania you would find exactly the same approach if not worse! BTW, I have been twice in NZ and I couldn’t find ANY reason for which one would move from NZ to SLOVAKIA!!!??? Sorry I don’t want to offend you, I live in Romania but I have some Slovak roots. I wish you all the best!

    Sincerely
    Gabriel Marius Danetiu
    PS You have managed to save for a new factory EV which is a GREAT accomplishment in Slovakia as well as in (almost) any other former communist country around here, congratulations!

  • Dimitar Baev
    1:07 pm on November 2nd, 2016 8

    Why not build it yourself at home and transport it on a platform to another country just to register and import it back?

  • gavin
    1:40 am on November 3rd, 2016 9

    Good question, but as far as I know you cannot register EV conversions here at all. It would have to remain registered in another country which you aren’t allowed to do if you don’t live there. Bureaucracy galore, unfortunately.

 

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