Small Croat firm has big dreams for electric car

By Zoran Radosavljevic

ZAGREB, April 1 (Reuters Life!) – 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 realised 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

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 [RENA.PA], Toyota
[7203.T] and Ford [F.N], 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
labour 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 favourite idea, but if
there is no alternative, we’ll opt for that,” said Majetic, who
has already contacted some of the major car manufacturers.

* For Toyota’s efforts on electric cars, click on
[ID:nN29254409]

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(Reporting by Zoran Radosavljevic, Editing by Paul Casciato)

Small Croat firm has big dreams for electric car