“No garage would put a repairman at risk with a car that damaged,” claims Max, whose insurance company agreed to send the written-off Betty to the scrap yard. A few months later, Max’s app reported that Betty needed a software update and shortly specified that Betty was undergoing repairs in Uman, a Ukrainian town halfway between Kyiv and the front line. “I thought it must be a mistake,” Max said.
It wasn’t a mistake. He managed to track Betty down to a Ukrainian car-selling website. She looked as good as new, maybe even better. The Betty 2.0 was sold by a certain Mychajlo who claimed that the car suffered “minor scratches” in Canada but was repaired with original Tesla parts. The price of $55,000 (about CZK 1.23 million) was about the same as a new car in the United States.
Max’s Betty’s intercontinental resurrection was impressive but not unusual. Cars written off in North America have long ended up in Eastern European repair shops willing to repair damage that American and Canadian mechanics don’t even want to touch. In 2021, according to available data, Ukraine was among the top three destinations for used American passenger vehicles shipped abroad, just behind Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates. Ukrainian importers and wreckers are known for their ingenuity. Some have made the repair of written-off electric vehicles their specialty, which has helped increase the number of electric vehicles on Ukrainian roads even amid the ongoing war with Russia.
Although few automakers sell new electric vehicles in Ukraine, their share among newly registered cars, nine percent, is about the same as in the United States and almost double that of Poland or the Czech Republic.
Most of the remanufactured electric vehicles in Ukraine come from North America. Many of them arrived badly damaged. The reason may also be the fact that, according to data from insurance companies, new electric vehicles with low mileage have depreciated faster in recent years than their counterparts with an internal combustion engine. American and Canadian repair shops and insurance companies consider them more dangerous and more difficult to repair.
Ivan Malachovskyj is not afraid of cases like the one with Max’s Betty. His company was founded five years ago in Dnipro, eastern Ukraine, and repairs around 100 Tesla vehicles a month, about a fifth of which are from abroad. Currently, the owner himself serves in the Ukrainian army, but manages his employees remotely.
“We have problems in our lives and we can solve them, whether it’s a battery or an invasion. Electric cars, batteries for electric cars, that’s not a problem,” says Malachovskyj.
Sometimes Malachovskyj and his colleagues take apart the irreparable large batteries from electric cars and use them to power electric scooters, or even military drones. Malachovskyi claims that most of the Tesla cars on Ukrainian roads have already been broken into in North America.
The war boosted Ukrainian business with the crucifixion of electric cars. It made fuel more expensive, making electric cars more attractive. Ukraine also has a public charging network with around 11,000 chargers, according to Volodymyr Ivanov of Nissan Motor Ukraine. This is more than the US state of New York and twice as much as neighboring Poland.
After 2018, the Ukrainian government abolished most taxes and duties on the import of used electric vehicles. In the United States, electric cars tend to be expensive and are mainly owned by people with high incomes. North American wrecks, Ukrainian incentives for electric cars and relatively low electricity prices have painted a different picture in the country.
“One joke says that all the poor drive electric cars and all the rich drive gasoline cars,” says Malachovskyj. According to him, Tesla is also popular because its maintenance is very cheap.
“This is a relatively recent development,” says Hans Eric Melin of British consultancy Circular Energy Storage, which tracks international flows of used electric vehicles and batteries. A few years ago, he started keeping a close eye on the Ukrainian market after noticing that more Nissan Leafs were being offered online in Ukrainian than in English. At the time, this pioneer of electric vehicles was essentially the only car around long enough for the used market to develop.
Over time, the Ukrainian electric fleet has grown to include the entire range of electric vehicles sold in the world. Melin predicted that the war would end the electric vehicle boom in Ukraine. “I was completely wrong,” he admitted.
From last July to this summer, Ukraine’s electric vehicle fleet doubled to 64,312 cars, at least according to data collected by the Ukrainian research group Automotive Market Research Institute.