Converted Skoda Cars Offer Electric Drive with Stick Shift

By · July 25, 2012

Skoda Roomster electric by EVC

Skoda Roomster electric by EVC

Skoda does not sell its cars in the United States. Nobody expects the company to get into that market anytime soon, but it's a fast growing brand in Europe and China. It's been part of the Volkswagen group for about 20 years, and thanks to massive German investments, it should sell more than a million cars this year. That is the level where it's impossible to ignore electric mobility, and I've seen electric Skodas on various shows.

The Czech brand had announced a plan to test 10 electric Octavia wagons in 2010, but it has not been very fast in putting the cars on the road. The 10 cars have not yet arrived. There's nothing innovative in the electric Skodas. They share all their parts with Volkswagen's EVs, and Skoda—like Seat, the Spanish brand of the Volkswagen's group—has to wait for Volkswagen to launch its own electric models.

Skoda Roomster electric by EVC

Skoda Roomster electric by EVC

Could someone who doesn't want to wait convert Skoda cars to run on electricity? That's where EVC comes in. This small Swiss company has made a business converting all five Skoda models to an electric drive, and it's growing. I had the opportunity to test drive the Roomster. It's about the same length as a Nissan LEAF, with the difference of a bulbous back for large cargo capacity. There's no official partnership between Skoda and EVC, so EVC buys complete cars—then converts them and sells them independently. To keep costs down, EVC has chosen to retain the stock Skoda transmission, and that is a 5-speed manual. So it has a clutch pedal and a gear lever, the immediate difference with the diesel model (which largely outsells the gasoline model in Europe) is that the tachometer's needle doesn't move when the contact is on. But everything's normal when the car is in gear with the driver accelerating.

Some people still find it surprising to see a gearbox in an electric car, but there are obvious advantages. Like a vehicle with an internal combustion engine (ICE), acceleration is brisk in first or second, and top gear is for high speed driving. But it's so different from an ICE when there is no added drama from having the motor doing 1,000 or 6,000 RPM. There's only the tachometer to tell. I guess they should add a trip computer that would show the instant electrical consumption, so the driver will know how efficient it is to upshift. EVC hasn't changed the gear ratios, so they may not be perfectly suited to the motor's torque curve, yet somehow, the result was nice. This electric Skoda Roomster doesn't provide the impressive push in the back the most powerful EVs do, but it was nice in another way, much more like a gas car. Besides, the big advantage should be money-wise. With a gearbox, the car can do with a smaller and cheaper motor, and a smaller battery should also be enough.

Under the hood of an electric Skoda from EVC

Under the hood of an electric Skoda from EVC

But we should not forget we're talking low-volume here. EVC can individualize each car it builds. Price starts at 40,800 Swiss francs for the base Roomster with a 30 kW motor and a battery giving a 100 km range, to 57,500 Swiss francs for the top of the line model with a 65 kW motor and a 200 km battery. As an indication, the Roomster with the 77 kW diesel starts at 24,140 Swiss francs or about US $29,118. That makes the electric version far from cheap, but it's available right now.

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