The electric car market in Ukraine is growing at extremely high rates. By the end of 2018, there were almost 15,000 e-cars in Ukraine, 8000 of which were imported during last year. Ukrainians are becoming more mindful regarding eco-issues. Besides the fact that e-cars are a green alternative to internal combustion engine vehicles, there are many other advantages: they are cheaper to maintain, especially in countries like Ukraine where electricity costs are way lower than fuel costs. Trying to discover what prompts Ukrainians to choose electric cars and what the market dynamics will be in the future, we talked to Elena Artemenko, Co-Founder, CPO & CMO at Go To-U, Nazar Shymone-Davyda, Co-Founder at Go To-U and Lyubomyr Koval, Founder at QubStudio.
Go To-U is a Ukrainian startup that developed an EV charging station platform that connects electric car owners with e-car friendly cafes, restaurants, hotels, and shopping malls. It includes a map of charging stations, charger booking system, and loyalty program for EV owners. QubStudio is a UI/UX design agency based in Lviv. They provided UX and UI design for the Go To-U app.
First steps to carbon-free future in Ukraine
“The first Tesla was imported to Ukraine back in 2014. It was in the middle of the Maidan Revolution and we thought that if we manage to change the Ukrainian approach to electric cars, that would mean independence from Russia in terms of gas and petrol, provide economic safety, and eco-safety,” tells Elena Artemenko. As the most high-tech car on the market, Tesla is drawing attention to everyone interested in innovations. Elena and Nazar set an ambitious goal – to maximize the number of electric cars in Ukraine.
According to Elena, there are still a number of obstacles on the way to a green future for Ukraine. People are hesitating or changing their intention to buy an e-car simply because they don’t know where to charge it. They are scared of getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. Go To-U team decided to check if this fear was reasonable enough and made an experiment – tried to get from Kyiv to Lviv on a single charge. To minimize the car’s resources they were driving at a speed of 40 km/hour for 8 hours. The purpose of that experiment was to show that even if you don’t have e-car chargers on your route, you are still able to manage.
“If you drive long distances (over 300 km) on a regular basis, purchasing an electric car might not be the most rational choice. However, the situation will change completely once superchargers are installed. Our plan is to install them already this autumn. With a supercharger you can charge your car within half an hour, compared to 2-3 hours with a regular EV charger,” tells Elena.
All electric car owners on one platform
2014 was also the year when Elena and Nazar started to develop the Go To-U platform. At that point, there wasn’t any infrastructure for electric car owners. When there were few electric cars in Ukraine, there weren’t any chargers but businesses started to install outdoor plugs. Elena says: “We understood that the project has potential and Go To-U could become beneficial for both entrepreneurs and e-car owners. The idea was to create a partnership program for many businesses. Installing EV charges requires many investments, so we decided to cooperate with businesses.” The first business which reached the startup was Taron – a restaurant in Lviv. After installing the first electric charger at the restaurant, step by step Go To-U started to attract new clients.
For businesses it is a great benefit: new audience, loyal customers and additional PR channels – Go To-U app and social media. “Our first big deal was a partnership with a Ukrainian gas station chain OKKO – we signed a contract for 38 charges at once,” proudly shares Elena. “Now, we’re trying to expand our services to the global market: Portugal, Thailand, Poland, Georgia, Kazakhstan, etc. Besides, we collaborate with Volkswagen and we hope to extend our audience to the Volkswagen electric car users.” Go To-U has 12,000 EV chargers on the global map. At the moment, the app has 8000 active users, mostly Ukrainian.
Smooth UX for e-car owners
Go To-U founders think that people who switch from an internal combustion engine car to an electric one deserve appreciation. These are the people who care the most about the future of the planet, and the team’s task is to make their experience as smooth as possible. “We need to do everything possible to encourage more and more people to choose electric cars instead of traditional and often cheaper ones. The faster the process will move, the more humanity will benefit. And here we mean not only ecology and air pollution, but also noise pollution, for example. When you stay in a quiet place without urban noise, you sleep better and feel more comfortable mentally. The choice people have to make is whether they want to continue to be surrounded by these deafening stressing sounds or live a calmer life with an electric car,” explain Elena and Nazar.
To make the life of electric car owners easier Go To-U decided to create a platform that would unite all EV chargers located in the vicinity.“We agreed that it should be an app. There were only two slightly similar projects in the world at that time: Chargemap and Plugshare. We didn’t really know what we were going to do. The first app was released at the end of 2015, however, in the way it is now our startup was created in the summer of 2017. Back then we had our electric car dealership. We promoted e-cars through different events, presentations, parties, test drives, etc. Later we understood we need to concentrate on Go To-U to spread the idea of free and comfortable EV charging around the world,” tells Nazar.
Go To-U has a unique benefit its competitors can’t provide: booking the chargers. A smart e-charger based on IoT technologies simply won’t work without a reservation. The startup has developed a whole infrastructure of electric chargers: they cover many locations. Every new electric car user will eventually look for chargers – Go To-U chargers are equipped with a recognizable branding sticker which really helps with brand awareness.
At the end of 2017, Go To-U started to work with QubStudio and updated its app. The startup chose QubStudio because of the same vision for the product.
According to QubStudio’s Founder Lyubomyr Koval, the team especially enjoyed working on the app because Go To-U customers appreciate innovations, aesthetics, and functionality not only in digital products but also in industrial and automobile design. Everything has to be at its own place and as functional as possible: but it cannot be just a button, it has to be beautiful and engaging. The design matters a lot. There’s another explanation for that: in the information era, people are suppressed by the number of web and mobile services. “We can’t let customers think twice before clicking, that’s why UX is so important. No matter if we are talking about the app or the car – user experience should be intuitive and super fast. The emotional aspect is also vital here: the product has to be catchy, it should stick in your memory. Intuitive UX and touching branding – these are two parts of a great product,” says Lyubomyr.
Another Go To-U product – a back office for businesses that install chargers. The back office is an online virtual business cabinet, where the stats about charger usage and the users are collected. Businesses that use Go To-U and the back office also have the possibility to send ads and promotions through the app. Electric car owners are mostly early adopters, open to innovations, and they are always thankful for the possibility to charge their car. If they charged a car at a restaurant or a shop it’s possible that they will recommend it to friends and become loyal brand ambassadors.
Qubstudio Design Team is currently following Agile’s approach designing all Go To-U products. “Having a general roadmap we also define the priorities and the backlog each week for the next sprint. We continuously measure the effectiveness of our solutions, collect user’s feedback, and work to improve products. Go To-U mobile app surpassed all expectations,” shares Lyubomyr.
The design has garnered positive user feedback with downloads increasing every day. New To-U app design was recognized by the Ukrainian Design Awards as The Best Of 2018.
Electric vehicle market in Ukraine
There are about 15,000 electric cars in Ukraine and the number is exponentially growing. Nazar Shymone-Davyda remembers that when the team started in 2013, there were perhaps a hundred electric cars all around the country. In comparison, more than a thousand new e-cars were registered just last month. The number of plug-in hybrids has also raised (the difference between a plug-in hybrid and a regular hybrid is the fact that the first one can be charged, while the latter cannot). Go To-U founders wouldn’t recommend such cars, as the risk of breakdown doubles. If the engine breaks down, a plug-in car often becomes an electric car with a smaller run. Chances of an electric car breaking down are considerably lower simply because they have a smaller number of machine parts – only 18 moving parts in Tesla, for example. Another convenience of using an electric car – you don’t have to do a vehicle inspection every year. Tesla, for example, comes with a three-year warranty and most Tesla owners don’t need to get maintenance support during that time. Moreover, Tesla’s machine parts can be scanned remotely – if anything happens with the car you get a call from the official Tesla’s support, as they detect the issue.
The most popular electric car in Ukraine is Nissan Leaf. Ukrainian people are interested in reasonably priced cars. However, the average EV still remains more expensive than a used car. According to Elena, the main motivation to buy an electric car is status.“E-car popularity is very similar to Apple’s iPhone. Having an electric car immediately increases the quality of life: it starts faster, drives smoother, smells better, and it doesn’t freeze. The economy issue is a nice bonus: it’s not the main decision-making factor but it’s still important. What makes people consider buying an electric car is enjoyable feedback from their friends who have had a great experience using it. And, of course, it’s trending now.”
Electric car buyer personas
Elena and Nazar assure that the stereotype that young people, especially those who work in tech, tend to buy electric cars is wrong.“It seems that the youth is more open to innovations but, in fact, it is not true. IT specialists are so picky that while choosing a car they would rather choose something cheaper, but with a fuel engine,” says Elena. Nazar adds: “Experienced drivers can understand the benefits of having an e-car better. Mature-age drivers know exactly what they want, and they often want electric cars. Indeed, there are many more electric car owners in the 60-70 age group than among the 20-30 years olds. Besides, there is one more decision factor typical for Ukrainians: struggle for innovations. In contrast with other European countries, Ukraine has been restricted from the rest of the world by the USSR. Ukrainians haven’t always had access to modern technologies. And now when we do, we can’t help it – we want it all.”
Founders also note that European countries have a strong loyalty to national businesses. Italian people buy Alfa Romeo, Germans buy a BMW or Mercedes, French people buy Peugeot or Citroen, etc. “Tesla is booming in Norway because Norwegians don’t have a developed automotive industry, even though they still have their own electric cars. The automotive industry is not easy to develop from zero: it is a risky business that calls for billion-dollar investments, so it is easier to use a well-known reliable product. However, with the tendency we observe right now Ukraine definitely has a chance to become the greenest country in Eastern Europe,” concludes Elena.