Czech car companies and the government have not hitherto been in the forefront of moves to promote electric cars but now both appear to have changed directions. The government is now looking to back their roll out and the biggest car maker, Škoda Auto, says a quarter of its production could be electric or hybrid cars by 2025.
Electric dreams or perhaps electric reality could be described as the focus as the Czech prime minister and members of the government met with bosses of Škoda Auto at the car manufacturer’s Mladá Boleslav headquarters. And they found that they were largely reading off the same map and steering in the same direction.
Prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka pledged stepped up efforts on training and research to help the transition to a new manufacturing and driving future where greater use is made of digital technologies and driverless and electric cars. And bosses at Škoda Auto looked to the not too distant future of 2025 when it expects to double its production to more than 2 million cars a year with around a quarter of those vehicles powered partly or wholly by electricity.
Škoda Auto board chairman Bernhard Maier had already declared the shift to electric vehicles irreversible before Thursday’s top meeting.
Škoda Auto, and its parent company Volkswagen, is being driven by European and worldwide developments where diesel and petrol cars face restrictions or outright bans from city centres over the next decade. The Czech Republic is essentially a sideshow here, it represented in January around 8 percent of Škoda Auto’s surging worldwide sales.
But the car industry is not a sideshow for the Czech Republic. The total sector alone represents around 25 percent of industrial production and total exports and in 2015 around 7.5 percent of the country’s total wealth creation. So, what’s good for the car sector is often regarded as being good for the country.
With regard to electric vehicles, sales in the Czech Republic last year are reported to be just 200. Part of the problem is their high price and worries about the thin network of charging sites. The prime minister says a 1200-strong network should be developed by 2020 costing around 1 billion crowns. And other steps look likely. Jaromír Marušinec is chairman of the Czech electric vehicle industry association.
“Certainly, I think it is very significant that Škoda will be making electric cars. Škoda Auto has the technology available either on its own or as part of Volkswagen. And Volkswagen is one of the highest selling electric car makers in the Czech Republic. This should help the overall electric car industry sector.”
He adds though that Škoda Auto is playing catch up after being late to the game.
“Škoda Auto is the last significant car producer that has not been producing electric cars. Hybrid technology has already been on the market for around 20 years since 1997. So Škoda Auto is catching up around 20 years on the rest of the world.”