This article is part of the Killing the Combustion Engine special report, presented by SQM.
It’s only a 150-kilometer drive across Cyprus; well below how far an average electric vehicle can drive on a single charge. Range anxiety — a major barrier in the shift to EVs — shouldn’t be a thing.
“Because it’s so small, we don’t have those issues,” said Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos.
But the island’s share of battery-electric vehicles is among the lowest in the EU — in 2021, only 0.06 percent of cars on the road were battery-electric vehicles, compared to 0.8 percent — or 2 million out of 270 million cars — for the whole bloc, according to the EU’s Alternative Fuels Observatory.
Cyprus has been slow to build public charging points — the country only had 57 as of last year — and there are complaints that an incentive scheme targeted at boosting EV sales was misaimed.
That’s shaping up to be a major problem for Cyprus as the EU ramps up its climate efforts; transport accounts for 21 percent of the island’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
The European Commission warned in a report earlier this year that Cyprus “has a long way to go” on green mobility. Public transport is underused, pushing up private car use, and the market for zero-emissions passenger cars is “still at an early stage in its development.”
“You can imagine the burden that the minister of transport of Cyprus has in reaching our environmental goals,” Karousos told POLITICO.
But Nicosia is aware of how far behind it’s lagging. It hopes to get more people to scrap their often aging gasoline and diesel-powered cars for EVs with its first electromobility strategy to promote clean cars, buses, taxis and bikes.
The country has a national target of making all new car registrations electric by 2035 — the same goal that’s being mulled by the EU.
Cash for cars
To get the ball rolling, the government used pandemic recovery cash to offer grants of up to €9,000 for purchasing an EV, plus an additional €1,000 if owners scrap a polluting car, with separate schemes for plug-in hybrids, vans and taxis and another support scheme for installing a solar power system at home.
The idea was a huge hit, with 8,000 people — or about 1 percent of the population — applying within hours, Karousos said.
Yet the shift to EVs is faltering.
The grants portal operates on a first-come-first-served basis, and those who got their foot in the door had two months to claim their cash. If they didn’t, the grant moved on to the next round of applicants. It’s now in its fourth round, said Alexis Anninos, chairman of Cyprus’ Motor Vehicles Importers Association.
“This basically shows … that people were not exactly ready to exercise this option and buy the vehicles during this year,” he said.
That’s because many people who applied for a grant thought it would make an EV cheaper than an internal combustion engine car — rather than just reducing the cost gap — “which is a mistake,” he said.
There were also other doubts, he added, including the cost of charging and the state of the charging network, which is “in its infancy.”
On top of that, the supply crunch that continues to hamper automotive deliveries also means Cypriots who did purchase an EV will have to wait months to get their cars.
Charalampos Theopemptou, leader of Cyprus’ opposition Green Party and an MP, argued that cutting €10,000 from the price of a new EV still leaves them out of reach for many.
“How many people have the money to buy a car that expensive?” he asked. “It’s a good thing to promote electric cars, yes, but who are we subsidizing with this scheme?”
There are also concerns about how much sense it makes to switch to an electric car on an island where the vast majority of electricity is generated by burning oil.
Cyprus’ electricity supply “will actually make you think twice, because you’ll be charging an electric car with expensive electricity, produced by heavy oils,” Theopemptou said.
He argued the cash should have been put toward the island’s charging infrastructure or getting authorities to electrify their fleets. “You need to do this to feel comfortable to buy an electric car,” he said.
Company-owned cars and municipal vehicles are a good place to start the electrification process, said Oscar Pulido, fleet electrification officer for Spain at green group Transport & Environment. Growing the fleet of electric company cars would add to the second-hand market and make them more affordable.
Instead, individual consumers were responsible for 94 percent of battery-electric vehicle purchases in 2021 — the highest rate in Europe, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation.
The Greens’ Theopemptou said successive governments have failed to follow through on green transport plans drawn up a decade ago.
Greening transport in Cyprus must go beyond car-centric policies and focus on public transport and incentives to cycle, he said.
“We could be the greenest country in the world. We have everything: We have the sun, we have the knowledge … We have everything it takes, but we don’t do it,” he said.
Nektaria Stamouli contributed reporting.
This article is part of the Killing the Combustion Engine special report, presented by SQM and was produced with full editorial independence by POLITICO reporters and editors. Learn more about editorial content presented by outside advertisers.