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 The laws are outdated and reminiscent of the days of Communism, where cars were seen as a luxury for the few, unlike today.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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.