Second-Life Leafs Finding Happy Home in Russia

The BEV market in the Russian bloc of countries may be small but it has Europe’s largest fleet of BEV buses working in Moscow and a growing demand for old BEV cars.

This second trend has seen an acceleration of consumer interest in second-life Nissan Leaf cars. Natalya Trynko, head of PR at Jaguar Land Rover Russia, said: “Before the launch of sales of our electric Jaguar I-Pace, we had held a focus group of consumers who showed interest to the model. They appeared to be technically advanced and socially responsible people. Many were owners of some IT business and considered an electric car as a perfect fit with their occupation.”

The nation is rich with technical expertise so, naturally, many consumers are eager to try an electric car. However, it is one of the poorest nations in Europe. In 2019, only 131 consumers could afford to pay roughly $100,000 for the I-Pace. “Honey is sweet but the bee stings”, is the catch phrase that sums up local electric car enthusiasts’ dilemma.

Thousands of them seek satisfaction in hunting for used Nissan Leafs at auctions in Japan but also in the EU and the US. From 2016 to 2019, more than 5,000 first-generation Leafs were imported to Russia until their share in the national BEV fleet exceeded 80% last year. Dealers in Belarus, Ukraine and some other post-Soviet countries are beating the same path. In fact, every 1-in-20 Nissan Leafs sold globally gets a second owner in the region.

The selling point is strong, says Evgeny Mordovsky, head of car dealer ES Transit. For a price of a new B-class Lada Granta, a budget car, one can get a top-configuration C-class car with a bunch of BEV virtues such as low ownership cost and pleasant driving experience.

The dealer says that many consumers are prepared to put up with the Japanese Leaf’s a right hand drive and with other issues such as a shorter range of old batteries, sometimes in winter just 30 miles, absence of public chargers and financial incentives. The observation coincides with a conclusion in an AAA survey conducted in the US in 2020 that most electric car owners loose concerns over range after purchase (see Paul Myles’ article).

Path to new vehicles and manufacturing

Affordable used Leafs had a vital role in building confidence in BEVs so that the new cars market is starting to warm up too. Jaguar Land Rover and Tesla have been trying the national ground since 2019, Jaguar was starring last year with its battery-electric I-Pace SUVs.

Nissan and Geely are watching the early starters closely, standing one foot in the market. Nissan’s crossover Ariya, premiered globally this July, is planned to be the first Nissan model officially sold in the country, said Roman Skolsky, PR director at Nissan Russia.

Chinese Geely has recently signed an agreement with Belarus on assembling locally its battery-electric Geometry A sedan. Meanwhile in Russia, start-up Zetta announced a two-year postpone of a launch of production of its budget BEV to 2021, earlier expected in December, 2019.

On May 4, 2020, the governments of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia, the Eurasian Customs Union member states, cancelled a tariff on import of EVs, either new or used. Immediately after that, prices on new and used battery-electric cars dropped by the order of 5%.

Sales jump

In June, new BEV sales jumped up two-fold from May, according to analyst agency Autostat. Sales surge in the used cars market was “even more impressive”. Nevertheless, its press secretary Azat Timerkhanov is cautious over drawing early conclusions because the market is also influenced by factors such as loosening of pandemic-related restrictions and seasonal effects.

The interviewed experts think that the incentive-sales link’s nature is rather promotional than financial. “Massive media coverage spurred consumers who, at that moment, were considering buying an electric car,” says Mordovsky.

Financial benefits are too small to seriously affect sales, suggests the dealer: “Of course, people liked the news but to make a really attractive offer, the government must abandon other expenses such as VAT, excise taxes and also subsidize shipping.”

“Low gas prices by the European standards, severe climate and awful state of road infrastructure persist as important causes of low interest in electric and hybrids cars,” Nissan’s Skolsky says. “Watching closely the situation, we totally understand that the electric vehicles segment needs additional incentives. Nevertheless, we also clearly see the interest is growing with every year.”

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