A Versatile Look into Eco-friendly Vehicles in Georgia

The FINANCIAL -- Tbilisi’s heavily jammed traffic is infuriatingly worrisome, and it leaves no one indifferent, not even the pedestrians. No, I should have said, especially the pedestrians. Due to alarmingly high air contamination levels, humming “all I need is the air that I breathe” has a whole new meaning for the dwellers of the Capital.

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, the car park of the country has been steadily growing annually, with the growth rate constituting 5.3% in 2017. That sounds positive until you realize that Georgia has an old car park: of the 1,257,502 vehicles registered in Georgia by the end of 2017, only 1.2% (14,838) have less than 3 years of operating age; 91% were manufactured before 2008; and the operating age of 602,927 vehicles (48%) is above 20 years, the latter indicator being up by 9.5% compared to that of last year.

Old vehicles produce much more exhaust gases compared to new, eco-friendly vehicles, severely polluting the environment. Ms. Eka Laliashvili, Chair of the Georgia Alliance for Safe Roads, together with likeminded people and responsible corporations, is determined to salvage the air of Tbilisi for us and for future generations. Ms. Laliashvili has expressed to Versatile KS grave concern regarding the consequences of air contamination: “In recent years, the number of cardiovascular, respiratory and oncological diseases has increased significantly due to air pollution. Exhaust from faulty, old vehicles makes up almost 71% of total emissions”. These concerns have translated into vocal actions on April 12 with the launch of For Clean Air campaign. Up to twenty private companies will be jointly advocating legislative initiatives aimed at improving air quality, developing awareness raising campaigns, as well as implementing eco initiatives, such as promoting green products, using eco-vehicles, encouraging employees to do voluntary vehicle tech-inspection and much, much more.

Shifting to green transportation would indeed help rid the atmosphere of the toxic gases as these modes of transportation have few to zero emissions. While mopeds are nothing new, they were only recently introduced to Georgia’s reality as a responsible greener alternative to driving heavily petrol-thirsty vehicles. They are simple, economical, convenient, and fun to ride.

Versatile KS spoke with one of the Founders of Scoot Scoot, Mr. Giorgi Monavardisashvili who teasingly stated: “we are practically orchestrating the ‘From Black Jeeps to Scooters’ endorsement”. What stands out is that they actually practice what they preach - both founders of Scoot Scoot use scooters as their daily mode of transportation.

Scoot Scoot has been operating on the Georgian market for the past year and a half, swiftly gaining popularity: “we offer affordable, mainstream Scooter rental and sales services to our cherished clients. Despite growth, we still manage to abide by our principle to all know our customers by name as we engage with them in different ways to augment their experience of using scooters. We have two rental shops in Tbilisi and we are currently working on opening a showroom to display all our scooters for sale”, explained the Founder. Their prices range from GEL 1,100 to GEL 6,000. For instance, they sell brand new Vespa LX 125 for only GEL 4,900. “Our business is our humble contribution to sparing the air of Tbilisi and beyond”, concluded Mr. Monavardisashvili.

Moto Club Georgia, on the other hand, started importing mopeds in Georgia almost seven years ago when it was still a novel fruit: “it was very challenging back then as we had to promote the idea of using mopeds and attempt to sell them at the same time. Initially, we were only importing second hand vehicles but now we import new scooters from China as well”, explained Mr. Veniamin Gogishvili, the Founder of the company. Currently, vehicle prices at Moto Club Georgia range from USD 400 to USD 1,000 and in addition to mopeds, they import and sells scooter spare parts and accessories. As for electric scooters, the Founder believes they will not be able to compete with the petrol scooters with 4 stroke engines neither in terms of price affordability, nor in technical specifications any time soon in Georgia.

Mr. Gogishvili revealed to Versatile KS that they are seriously considering introducing a renowned scooter brand either from EU or Japan: “We haven’t concluded the negotiations yet, but we are actively seeking out opportunities as we believe the usage of this mode of transportation has amazing growth potential in the Georgian market. If you look at our company’s sales alone, it has increased by 25% compared to the previous year’s sales and we are optimistic the growth can be sustained in the coming years as well, as long as all companies operating in our field have a level playing field”.

He stated that any person in Georgia, both from cities and villages are potential users of mopeds/scooters: “we had a case when a 60-year-old woman had bought a moped and helmet from us, and after some time she drove by to thank us cordially as the vehicle dramatically simplified her life by making her much more mobile”. According to Mr. Gogishvili, solving the problem of lack of designated parking spots for mopeds/scooters in the cities could be one of the first and basic initiatives for the Government to improve the existing infrastructure for users of this mode of transportation.

The lack of designated parking spots also bothers the Founder of Moped Depot, Mr. Giorgi Arveladze, but: “one of the major concerns is the safety of the moped drivers. Only a couple of years ago, the initial reaction of any person offered a scooter to, was ‘but driving among reckless car drivers means risking my life’. However, we see the trend that the number of mopeds has more than tripled in Georgia and gradually it is becoming an integral part of the transport ecosystem. Despite much smaller size, a scooter still requires designated parking spaces in the city, so we would really like to see scooter parking alongside the car parking spots in Tbilisi and other large cities of Georgia”.

The mission of Moped Depot is to popularize mopeds and significantly increase its share as a very popular means of transportation in Georgia. Business interest set aside, by doing so they will achieve notably decreased air pollution levels and help Tbilisi become a healthier place to live: “an average moped only emits half of that of a car, thus, substituting each car with a scooter is an equivalent of planting over 100 trees in a way and we plan ‘to plant millions of trees’ in our way”, stated Mr. Giorgi Arveladze beamingly.

The Founder of Moped Depot reminded Versatile KS that initially, mopeds in Georgia were associated with several postal delivery services only in the corporate segment, but gradually, companies with diverse profiles started to realize that mopeds can be a much more reliable, less capital intensive and cheaper to maintain means of transportation. The Company specializes in both corporate and retail segments: “shortly after founding our business we became proud partners of such clients as Domino’s Pizza, Georgian Post, Energopro Georgia, and others”. They provide full scale services to corporate clientele, as for individual consumers “our product range suits anybody from students who like to easily get around to people that travel long distances, e.g. from Tbilisi to Rustavi or Gori, to people that are simply fed up with traffic jams and parking issues to people that just love to ride around the town on one of our beauties”.

Moped Depot partner brands are Taiwan based world known SYM and Turkish Mondial: “our retail prices range from GEL 3,000 on selected Mondial models to GEL 4,300 on Taiwanese SYM Fiddle III with Euro 4 emission standard. We do have interest free installment loan programs with the major Georgian banks and on a two-year installment plan example, the customer has zero down with the monthly payment of around GEL 170, which is a very attractive price for Georgians with an average salary of GEL 1,000” elaborated Mr. Arveladze. He further clarified that the Turkish based Mondial had already been a very popular brand in Georgia due to its durability way before his Company became their official distributor: “the brand has roughly around 20% market share according to our modest estimates”.

Versatile KS has requested official car park data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia and the given graph depicts the breakdown of imports of registered electric cars as well as motor vehicles for years 2015-2017.

According to the National Statistics Office of Georgia, in 2017 the overall import of scooters, mopeds and electric bikes has grown by 70% YoY to over 5,100 units, and Moped Depot believes it is still quite a low figure considering the demand for easy, cheap and reliable transportation in the country. The largest chunk of imports of mopeds is with small size engines (50 cc) - they are extremely comfortable to own as they need neither registration nor a driving permit. Roughly 60% of imports are comprised of these small engine scooters and the rest goes with bigger engine scooters and motorcycles: “unfortunately, as in the case of car market, we are seeing the largest increase in imports of second hand 20+ year mopeds. The average cost of these mopeds was USD 212 in 2017, meaning that clear majority of them were very cheap, fully amortized, aged scooters”, expressed concern the Founder.

Mr. Arveladze reasons that the current specifications of affordable electric scooters are not user friendly enough to be widely used in Georgia at this stage: “most of the scooters run for about 40-45km with a fully charged battery and then take about 4-5 hours to be recharged, so these scooters are mostly used for fun and in very limited quantities”, however he is assured, electric scooters will globally take over the gasoline ones in less than a decade.

On a positive note, Georgian government introduced a few initiatives to boost hybrid, electric and moto transport usage through tax incentives, but we have yet a long way to go to escape the disgrace of old car park.

As the readers may recall, in February 2018 the Government of Japan has handed over electric and hybrid cars to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia. This constituted the launch of a long-term auto park renewal initiative of the Ministry. The use of new, environmentally clean vehicles by the Patrol Police is a clear message to the public that along with the protection of public order, they care about upholding a healthy environment.

Of course, we will need a vehicle charging infrastructure of a scale and size that shall match Georgia’s current and future needs. But that’s a story of another tale.

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