It’s electric! Poland drives forward it's E-Car plans

Jan Woitas

Two cities, four crews and four different electric cars: there were the parameters of the e-Rally held in Poland on 21-22 April. The crews, made up of journalists from different Polish media outlets, set out to test four e-cars: a BMW i3, a Hyundai Ioniq, a Nissan Leaf and a newer Nissan Leaf II. Their mission was to get from Warsaw to Wrocław and back again, swapping cars midway.

Apart from a weekend of fun, the rally reflects the interest in electric cars in Poland. For now, they remain a niche mode of transport; 1,068 new ones were registered in Poland in 2017, compared to 569 the previous year, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association. However, the Polish government is banking on them. According to Mateusz Morawiecki, who took over as prime minister in December, “Poland could become a pioneer and leader of e-mobility.” Electro-mobility is one of the flagship programmes outlined in the Strategy for Responsible Development adopted by the Polish government in February 2017. The aim of the programme, which also encompasses e-buses, is to “stimulate the development of technology, production and the electric car market”. 

This requires a concerted effort, the Polish government highlights. “The development of this area must be based on the mutual interaction of various institutions, companies and environments. Without the creation of an electromobility ecosystem, a new branch of the economy will not be established,” said Michał Kurtyka, deputy Minister of Energy in March 2017, commenting on the Electromobility Development Plan adopted then by the government.

The plan also highlights the need to reach a certain level of saturation on the domestic electric car market. “A situation in which there are a million electric cars on Poland’s roads in 2025 would create the possibility of real integration of these vehicles with the power system and stimulate the development of Polish industry,” the Plan states. 

To get there, the plan outlines three phases, starting with a preparatory phrase. The government’s law on electro-mobility, which entered force in February, paves the regulatory ground, implementing the EU directive on alternative fuels infrastructure from 2014. The law introduces a series of incentives for drivers of e-cars, including exempting them from excise tax. The second phase, in 2019-2020, will involve building infrastructure and commercialising research on electro-mobility. Based on pilot projects, a catalogue of good practices will be drawn up. In the third phase, in 2020-2025, the e-mobility market is expected to gradually reach maturity. This will involve a change in social perceptions, as electric vehicles gain popularity, “creating a fashion for ecological transport, which will stimulate demand in a natural way,” according to the plan.  

For now, a key barrier is e-cars’ price, which experts warn makes them less accessible to Polish consumers. A two-seat Renault Twizy costs around 50,000 złoty, while other models can cost two or three times more. Another problem is the lack of infrastructure for electric cars on Poland’s roads.  The Electromobility Development Plan notes that “for psychological reasons, the lack of possibility for emergency charging is an important barrier to the development of the market.” Consumers need to be convinced that electric cars are just as functional as petrol ones, it adds. 

In this vein, the Ministry of Energy plans to build 6000 standard and 400 fast-charging points in 32 agglomerations across Poland by 2020. Overall, the Polish state will spend 19 billion złoty on developing electro-mobility in the years up to 2020, as set out in a letter of intent signed last year by the Polish Development Fund, the Ministry of Energy and the municipal authorities of 41 towns.

Alongside their environmental appeal, the government sees electric cars as an opportunity for Polish companies. Poland is already a significant producer and supplier in the European automotive industry. According to the government’s Electromobility Development Plan, Poland could produce not only high-quality components for electric vehicles, but also the cars themselves, as well as the necessary infrastructure. This will require considerable innovation; hence the government’s emphasis on cooperation between business and science.  “Technological change is the moment when supply chains are shuffled,” Michał Kurtyka, deputy Minister of Energy, said in a recent video interview for Rzeczpospolita. “If Polish companies get involved in electromobility early enough, there is a change that we will select first-rank suppliers.” 

More generally, the e-car industry could be a boon for Poland’s economy, a report by Cambridge Econometrics and the Warsaw-based Electric Vehicles Promotion Foundation argues. By 2030, it could create 50,800 jobs and boost Poland’s GDP by 0.3% by 2030, it estimates.