Mladen Alvirović, Editor-in-Chief of SAT Media Group: Have we adopted a new technology?

Although our car market is mostly price- instead of customer-focused, the progress of hybrid technology on the priority scale is quite obvious. This is even more important to highlight in a country where the level of exhaust emissions is not considered to be a really important thing by anyone.

Hybrid technology seems like the right solution for the near future; a solution that has the best of both worlds – the one we are used to and grew up with and the one that awaits us. We drive our cars exactly the same as we did a few decades ago, and automobile technology that ensures lower consumption and lower exhaust emissions seems to be exactly what the planet needs now.

The first production car to launch a hybrid drive was the Toyota Prius. It was launched in Tokyo in 1997 and was immediately declared the Car of the Year in Japan. Prius arrived in Europe in 1999 and Serbia in 2001. So, we have been accustomed to this kind of understanding of the drive technology for only twenty years. During that time, many vehicle manufacturers embarked on the path of hybridizing their production range, so Toyota was alone in that for long.

All this development has been going on for the last twenty years and was inspired by the idea of having a cleaner planet without having to revolutionize how vehicles are produced and used. During that time, Serbia lagged behind the world so much that our regulations did not even recognize that hybrid vehicles existed. Today, thanks to this regulation, there are several hybrid vehicles on our roads that are not registered anywhere as a hybrid. Fortunately, things have changed in the last few years.

The first change ensued when hybrid vehicles were included in one of the vehicle categories in vehicle registration documents. But the key change happened in late 2019 and early 2020, respectively. Hybrids have finally been granted citizenship, so to speak.

First, the Law on the Tax on the Use and Possession of Goods was changed. Now, the owners of hybrid vehicles do not have to pay the annual tax on the use, which is a saving of 1,300 dinars for some, and up to 240,000 dinars for others, depending on the volume of the vehicle’s engine. Then, at the beginning of March 2020, the Decree on subsidies for electric and hybrid vehicles was adopted, which was passed by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, and in cooperation with the Ministry of Finance. According to that decree, the owners of hybrid vehicles were finally eligible for state aid. Owners of classic hybrids are now entitled to close to 2,500 euro per vehicle in subsidies, while owners of plug-in hybrids are entitled to 3,500 euro per vehicle. Of course, if their vehicles have the emission limit of up to 100g/km for a classical hybrid or 50g/km with a plug in hybrid. The total amount of the subsidy planned for 2020, both for hybrid and electric vehicles, is 5,000 euro per vehicle or a total of a million euro.

One might think that the story ends here and that Serbia has stood side by side with developed countries where owners of environmentally friendly vehicles do receive assistance. However, with this, the story is just starting to unfold. Namely, the key thing has not been regulated yet and that is a reward for those who pollute less. The principle of “polluter pays”, as one of the conditions for opening Chapter 27 in Serbia’s accession negotiations with the EU, is inapplicable due to the general low living standard and the fact that the average age of a car in Serbia is 17-18 years. Exhaust emission measurement as an elimination factor at the technical inspection of a vehicle will be applied for the first time in July 2021, plus, nobody cares that much who pollutes more and who less. That does not exist in Serbia because there is no parameter during the use of vehicles and payment of duties that is based on the emission of exhaust gases. In our country, everything is still calculated based on engine capacity or power.

“Toyota sold 267% more hybrid vehicles in Serbia in 2019 compared to 2018 without the help of state subsidies, which clearly shows that customers understand the technology”

However, the fact that customers want hybrids is best illustrated by the example of Toyota, even before the subsidies started. For example, in 2018, in Serbia, Toyota sold 152 hybrid vehicles, which is about 11% of its total sales, i.e. a negligible percentage of the total market. However, only a year later, a total of 406 hybrids were sold in our country which is a 25% share in Toyota’s sales. Year-on-year sales of hybrid vehicles grew 267%. The fact that the city of Niš, where the prices of transportation are drastically lower than, say, in Belgrade, has the highest number of hybrid taxis in the Balkans, as many as 400 in active use, which shows that this is not a coincidence. Niš, and thus Serbia, should serve as an example for Eastern Europe of how it is possible to find a cost-effective and desirable solution even without subsidies for hybrid vehicles. Yes, Serbia wants hybrids and is on the right track, but it will take more time until we reach the point where they are a frequent occurrence on our roads. The key to having this lies with the average salary.

What is considered a hybrid?

There are three types of the hybrid drive. A classic hybrid in which the internal combustion engine and the electric motor can work together, and they can also start the vehicle each on their own, while the battery can be recharged while driving. Then there is the plug-in hybrid which gets its ‘fuel’ from an external source, as in classic electric vehicles. And there is a third type of hybrid with the official designation of a ‘mild’ hybrid. It is a compromise solution in which a classic car must get homologation for lower emission and then an affordable electric assistant is added to its system. This kind of a hybrid vehicle has a small engine that is suitable for certain modes of operation such as, say, starting driving or full acceleration.

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