April 1, 2010 / 9:08 AM / in 8 years

Small Croat firm has big dreams for electric car

<p>A engineer test drives on a prototype of a Croatian-made electric car XD in the factory yard located in the industrial district of the capital Zagreb on March 30, 2010. Fancy electric cars are hardly the first thing that comes to mind when talking about Croatia. Ethnic wars of the 1990s or the booming tourism on its pristine Adriatic coast are the far more common associations. Yet a small Zagreb-based company, Dok-Ing, has won global recognition with innovative high-tech products, like de-mining robots used by the U.S. army in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is now determined to get a foothold in the electric car market. REUTERS/Nikola Solic</p>

ZAGREB (Reuters) - Fancy electric cars are hardly the first thing that comes to mind when talking about Croatia. Ethnic wars of the 1990s or the booming tourism on its pristine Adriatic coast are the far more common associations.

Yet a small Zagreb-based company, Dok-Ing, has won global recognition with innovative high-tech products, like de-mining robots used by the U.S. army in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is now determined to get a foothold in the electric car market.

Barely seven months after the initial idea, the company produced a funky, bright red prototype, called XD, and displayed it at the Geneva Car Fair last month.

The small city car attracted considerable interest. Dok-Ing is now perfecting it and trying to find investors willing to foot the bill for mass production, preferably in Croatia.

“Ever since I was young I had this idea, to produce a car. Now I realized we have the know-how and we did it. I wasn’t motivated by profit, it was more like a game, to prove I can actually do it,” Dok-Ing’s owner Vjekoslav Majetic told Reuters.

The car holds three people and its state-of-the-art batteries, spread along the chassis, give it enough power to drive around town for several days without recharging.

“Driving at 50 km per hour, you can cover 250 km (145 miles). Recharging it at home takes six to eight hours, but we are also developing fast chargers which can do it in an hour,” said project manager Tomislav Bosko.

FUNDING KEY PROBLEM

<p>A Croatian-made electric car XD is seen in the factory yard located in the industrial district of the capital Zagreb March 30, 2010. Fancy electric cars are hardly the first thing that comes to mind when talking about Croatia. Ethnic wars of the 1990s or the booming tourism on its pristine Adriatic coast are the far more common associations. Yet a small Zagreb-based company, Dok-Ing, has won global recognition with innovative high-tech products, like de-mining robots used by the U.S. army in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is now determined to get a foothold in the electric car market. REUTERS/Nikola Solic</p>

The car’s performance is quite competitive, particularly the range. The initial costs are around 30,000 euros ($40,460), largely due to the expensive lithium-iron-phosphate batteries made in China.

But once in mass production, the car should cost less than 20,000 euros, which should make it quite attractive in countries who are trying to encourage the use of green technology.

“For the car industry, which generally does not produce such small electric cars, we are not competition. We cannot compete in terms of quantity or financial resources,” Majetic said.

Many major car manufacturers, like Renault, Toyota and Ford, are developing their own electric models, believing that hybrid or electric cars will dominate the market in 20-30 years.

“We stand a good chance now because there are few producers of such small cars, but with every month we lose, the chances for placing this on the global market are decreasing. Unless we define everything by the end of the year, we’ve lost the project,” Majetic said.

Starting any production-based business in Croatia often proves challenging because of slow bureaucracy, high taxes and labor costs and limited loan funding.

Initial financing may come from Croatia’s environment ministry, but Dok-Ing is more likely to set up a share-holding company to raise funds, or allow a Croatian or foreign investor to take over.

Dok-Ing will decide after completing a feasibility study in the next two months.

“If we don’t find the money here, we have no other option but to go abroad. This is not exactly my favorite idea, but if there is no alternative, we’ll opt for that,” said Majetic, who has already contacted some of the major car manufacturers.

Reporting by Zoran Radosavljevic, Editing by Paul Casciato

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