First Production Russian Electric Car On the Way

By · August 31, 2012

Lada Kalina, electric version

Lada Kalina, electric version

It's quite uncommon for Russian cars to make news in the West, but it happened this week with Avtovaz unveiling an electric version of its popular Lada Kalina model. As the largest carmaker in Russia, Avtovaz, which sells its cars under the Lada brand name, has already unveiled several electric prototypes. With a battery or a fuel cell, there have been strange experiments with off the shelf parts. Like taking an electric motor from some industrial machinery, a fuel cell from an old submarine, and assembling them inside a car. But today's efforts are much more serious, with production plans

It will come as a surprise to many because if there is any country ill-suited to EVs, it's Russia. This is the largest country in the world. Roads are long and in bad condition. And it can be incredibly cold. Moscow sitsat the same latitude as Edmonton (Canada). If a strong battery-hungry heater is a nice convenience in California, it's practically a matter of life and death in Russia. I don't know how popular EVs are in Edmonton, but I know Nissan and GM are not even willing to find out in Russia. The LEAF and the Volt are not offered on the Russian market. This may change someday since the Renault-Nissan alliance is about to take control of Avtovaz. But today's car is a Russian effort, without any input from Renault-Nissan.

Lada Kalina wagon, standard gasoline version

Lada Kalina wagon, the standard gasoline version

A Russian car is not exactly exciting. The three ways to describe Russian cars in Europe: poorly-engineered, poorly-designed and poorly-built. Some Russians still like them though, and the Lada Kalina is a popular car. A Yaris-sized car, it comes as a sedan or a wagon, and it was that latter model the engineers chose to convert to electric propulsion. Lada cars are normally different from other cars in the sense that Avtovaz doesn't buy much from external suppliers. Everything is made in-house, unfortunately, Russians went outside for technical assistance in conceiving the electric Kalina. They went to Switzerland to buy the motor, charger and all electronic parts, while the batteries are LiFePO4 cells from China. The resulting car has a 81-mph top speed and it does the 0 to 62 mph exercise in 13 seconds with its 60 kW motor. Range is 93 miles and charging takes 8 hours. But the best thing about this electric Kalina is its low weight. With simple construction—it would fare poorly in a crash-test—and little equipment, the car weighs only 2,650 pounds.

Lada Kalina wagon interior, standard gasoline version

Lada Kalina wagon interior, standard gasoline version

The big question now is about the Russian market for EVs, but it will likely, once again, go unanswered. The first batch of cars will not be offered to the general public. They will be used as taxicabs in the Southern city of Stavropol. That city is 900 miles South of Moscow, where heating will be much less of a concern. Price remains unknown, but the price of the standard gas model, which starts at about $8,500, is some indication. It's a safe bet that the production Kalina electric will be cheaper than a Coda with which it has many similarities. Both cars use cheap Eastern bodies with modern electronics and a motor in front of Chinese cells. Using them as taxicabs will probably bring the Russian cars to their limits. If they're proven reliable, they will have a future. At least in Russia.

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