Why Green Colored License Plates Are Crucial to Russia’s EVs

How do you know if a new energy car or a conventional one goes down a bus lane? The number plate will be the deciding factor.

The idea currently being proposed can help authorities to execute a bunch of EV supporting policies. Russia’s EV fleet is extremely small, less than 3,000 in the nation with around 50 million registered vehicles. Just 144 new EVs have been sold in 2018, according to analytic agency Autostat at a time when state policies to support new mobility has been fragmented and erratic.

This is about to end, says Yaroslav Fedoseev, press secretary for NTI Avtonet, the institution behind the state’s new mobility program. Several complementary measures to boost uptake of electric cars are also under consideration. Some of them cannot be implemented properly without the ability to distinguish an electric car from a conventional one. Allowing EVs into bus lanes or green zones and free parking areas are among the most obvious possibilities.

This is where colored license plates step in. Russia is borrowing the idea in China, explains Fedoseev. China’s green new energy license plates had been deployed nationally in 2017-2018. New cars of the green-plate category can be registered in unlimited quantity while conventional white plates for combustion engine cars are released within strict quotas.

In Russia colored plates could help authorities to monitor ICE vehicles breaking the rules. An Avtonet press officer said: “The Chinese experience confirms that cameras not only read letterings from the license plates but also detect their color.”

Pilots in Moscow

The Russian capital’s heavily polluted air forced the city administration to introduce EV supporting policies ahead of the federal government. In Moscow and its outskirts, on-street parking and charging are free for electric cars.

Two recent incidents show what issues arise because of visual similarity of EVs and conventional vehicles. Last autumn Sheremetyevo airport introduced a separate free parking lot for EVs. Staff at the entrance gate often could not judge if a car was electric or not. Often an EV driver would not be able to access a public charger because a gasoline car was occupying the parking space. “It is a serious issue now,” says Igor Antarov, managing partner at Moscow Tesla Club. “There were talks about imposing fines on gasoline car drivers who occupy parking spaces equipped with chargers.” Antarov strongly welcomes a proposal that parking attendants will find it much easier to issue penalty charges based on different number plates. “Any supportive measures are useful when the market is ready on the starting line. Use cases in Europe and the US show that legislators really give the industry a push that helps it to grow up and become a normal part of the economy.”

Moscow also wanted to allow the driving of EVs in public transport lanes but had rejected the plan because of the challenges with controlling the mixed traffic of gasoline and electric cars. Now the federal government is considering a corresponding federal law addressing bus lanes use, says Fedoseev and road patrols would benefit from the green plates to ensure that only EVs use the lanes.

Meanwhile, most Russian consumers still think of EVs merely as an exotic mode of transport and not one aimed at the average motorist, says Antarov. “If each EV cries out ‘I’m electric’, it can change perception. People will get used to thinking of electric cars as real and usable things,” he says.

Old cars, as good as new

According to Autostat statistics, 31.4% of Russia’s automotive fleet still belong to the lowest emissions ratings of Euro 1 or below. While preparing a strategy to boost the uptake of new EVs, the country lags far behind Europe, Japan and the US in restricting dirty transport. The Euro 5 standard has been in effect for new imported and locally produced vehicles since 2016 and, on the national scale, that’s about it. On the regional level, Moscow is the only city to ban trucks not complying to Euro 2 or higher standard.

The legislators are not so keen on environmental restrictions because they have run up against mass resistance when trying to apply punishing laws in the recent past. An attempt to oblige gasoline vendors to equip all gas stations with electric chargers was successfully sabotaged by most suppliers. Other examples that raised criticism are electronic toll collection system for trucks and a ban on school buses older than 10 years.

“The transportation business is already suffering from a higher burden of taxes and economic stagnation so any environmental restriction being released now might be a red rag to a bull,“ believes Vadim Toporov, associate director at KPMG Russia. “Restrictive policies work well in countries like Norway where vehicle owners already have a good focus on the environment,” agrees Antarov. “This is obviously not the case in Russia. Sure, restrictions will stimulate people but they will also cause anger.” He added that barriers for dirty vehicles must wait until a time when automakers can present affordable EV models in the Russian market.

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