Czech PM enthusiastic about self-driving and electric cars

The government is looking at ways to promote new automotive technologies

The Czech government says electric and smart cars are the future. The government is promoting the spread of electric cars and also the development of industries related to smart and self-driving cars. But the country already risks falling behind.

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (ČSSD) told daily Hospodářské noviny that the government is interested in supporting the development of a testing center for autonomous driving and also for supporting innovative companies in that area. He is working with the Transport Ministry on a detailed funding proposal, which should be submitted to the Cabinet later this year.

The auto industry is the most important economic sector in the Czech Republic but the company risks being left behind in new technology. Important developments in autonomous driving are taking place in the US and Germany. The German government has already announced that it intends to support the new technology and it is working on laws to allow testing of autonomous cars on public roads to see how they perform under real driving conditions. The US is also seeing self-driving cars being tested on roads in California and Nevada, and test sites are being developed where data can be collected.

Companies already in the Czech Republic are active in developing self-driving driving cars. The multinational firm Valeo has a research and development center in Prague in Strašnice and a test track at the former military base in Milovice. The firm is building a new facility in at the Depo Hostivař metro station and will be moving its research and testing of self-driving cars there.

The company originally developed air conditioning systems for cars, but increasingly is working on automated systems such as parking assistance and active safety systems such as lane keep assistants, autonomous emergency braking or detection of vehicles in the blind spot of rearview mirrors. In 2016 the firm had 300 engineers but will have 500 by 2018.

The transition from fossil fuel to electric cars is also going to impact on the Czech auto sector. The auto sector is under pressure to reduce emissions, and technology to create more efficient gasoline and diesel engines can only go so far. New technology such as electric engines will be needed for further reductions.

Prime Minister Sobotka says that a key issue is for more people to buy electric cars, but currently they are seen as luxury items and there is a lack of infrastructure for recharging. The government is promoting the purchase of electric cars by state agencies, but admits more needs to be done. The country plans to use EU funds to help develop a network of charging stations, and by 2020 there should be some 1,200 stations. Sobotka said this is a realistic goal.

The government is also considering some sort of incentive for people to buy electric cars, such as not having to pay value-added tax (VAT). Sobotka says that the issue still needs to be examined and currently since electric cars are so expensive it would mainly be a subsidy for wealthy people.

Carmaker Škoda and electric company ČEZ also recently announced that they would be working together to develop electric cars and infrastructure. Škoda plans to introduce a purely electric car in 2020 and estimates that by 2025 up to a quarter of its sales could be from electric cars.

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