Poland Seeks to Take Tesla’s Revolution for a Bus Ride

  • The nation wants to have 1 million of plug-in vehicles in 2025
  • Plan aimed at bolstering economic growth, cutting emissions

Home to a majority of the European Union’s most polluted cities, Poland is looking to plug in to the nascent electric car and bus industry to help it ditch the unpopular reputation as a country whose economy is hooked on coal.

The government wants to boost the number of electric vehicles made in the country of 38 million people to 1 million in 2025 from 427 last year. Encouraging cities to build up green credentials would help raise bus production to 1,000 a year by 2020, Deputy Development Minister Jadwiga Emilewicz said. The next stage will be output of plug-in cars or auto parts and offer citizens subsidies and tax incentives to buy them. Emilewicz didn’t name any Polish companies that would be involved in the push.

“Are we able to catch up with the western countries that have been making engines for one hundred years? Not really,” Deputy Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said at a conference in Warsaw on Tuesday. “However, we’re able to join in and surf on the fourth wave of economic revolution that’s ahead of us. This is our moment, our time.”

The Development Ministry wants Poland, Europe’s top coal producer and a staunch defender of the fuel in the EU, to benefit from the forecast that envisages the number of plug-in cars globally will soar to 500 million in 2040 from 1 million currently, according to Morawiecki. The plan would also help cut Poland’s reliance on Russian oil imports, Deputy Energy Minister Kurtyka said at the same conference.

The government is taking a path already paved by Tesla Motors Inc. The U.S.-based company prepares to start release of its mass-market $35,000 Model 3 battery-powered car, which will have a minimum 215-miles (346 kilometers) range. Tesla seeks to reach beyond the richest buyers and make electric vehicles a significant part of the evolving auto market.

‘Huge’ Potential

“This is highly progressive and a fast-growing market, and given that countries like Norway plan to ban conventional cars from 2025, the potential is huge, not to mention the jobs that could be created in Poland,” said Joanna Mackowiak Pandera, the head of the Forum for Energy Analysis in Warsaw and a former deputy environment minister. “The success depends on support systems as it all hinges on costs.”

Imports of used passenger cars may top 900,000 this year, with an average age of a vehicle brought to Poland exceeding 11 years, according to consultancy Samar. Poles registered 320,000 new cars last year.

“There’s an issue with the price for passengers, the range which isn’t acceptable for an average consumer and building widespread charging systems, which require huge investments in the power grid,” Jakub Farys, the head of the Polish Car Importers Association, said by phone. “Selling a million cars in 10 years is a very ambitious target, given that less than 150,000 electric cars were sold in Europe last year.”

It’s relatively easier to roll out electric city buses given their smaller range, the possibility of charging at termini and the lower price compared with conventional buses, according to Farys.

Those positioned to benefit from a new initiative include power and bus producers. The Energy Ministry estimated that the 4 terawatts of electricity, or 2.4 percent of the country’s yearly output, needed to power 1 million cars would help utilities raise sales by 2 billion zloty ($524 million) a year. Bus makers would earn 2.5 billion zloty extra from additional production.

Financing Output

The cabinet said it will use EU and local funds to bolster local bus producers. Polish cities have so far bought a total of 16 plug-in buses, while the country’s biggest manufacturer, Solaris Bus Coach SA, made 1,279 vehicles last year, both electric and traditional ones, and cities replace about 1,000 of them each year.

Since the nation’s municipalities operate only about 11,000 buses, the government is betting on the public to buy the bulk of vehicles and reach the 1 million target. Emilewicz said she hopes incentives, which would be based on those in western Europe, will start already in the current term of the parliament, which ends in 2019.

Carbon Footprint

Poland, which is trying to limit the increase in wind and solar energy while boosting the support for its coal-fired plants, is betting on the electric-vehicle plan to help it cut CO2 emissions. The World Health Organization said last month that 16 of the EU’s 20 most polluted towns and cities, including Zywiec, Krakow and Katowice are located in Poland.

“Transport accounts for almost half of total emissions,” Morawiecki said. “This is the way we have a chance to respond to the great decarbonization challenge set by the EU.”

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