Even as GM announced its strategy for “an all-electric future,” Armenia, never one to let an international trend pass it by, last week unveiled its own self-driving electric car, a first for this South Caucasus nation, a Soviet-era electric-vehicle manufacturer with a growing high-tech sector.
To be sure, the yet-to-be named car, presented at a September 29-October 1 technology exhibit in Yerevan, was pieced together from internationally made parts. The engine and battery are foreign-manufactured, but the overall car was designed by a team of Armenian engineers and assembled by the Armenian branch of the Texas-based technology corporation National Instruments.
The vehicle can reach speeds of up to 90 kilometers per hour (56 miles per hour) and its fully charged battery can last for a 50-kilometer (31-mile) drive, Gevorkian told local reporters at DigiTec, an annual tech expo in Yerevan. Gevorkian said it cost around $5,000 to produce the vehicle – a likely fraction of the production costs for a GM-made model.
But, unlike GM, which will release two electric cars in 2018, Armenia is not yet ready for large-scale manufacturing. “This particular car is not for sale, but the idea is to start mass production of these cars,” Gevorkian told The Armenian Times.
“The whole world is working on that [electric and self-driving vehicles] and we should do the same,” National Instruments project manager Ruben Simonyan told Itel.am. He said that the new car is an extension of Armenia’s long-established engineering culture, which includes a Soviet-period stint in electric-vehicle manufacturing.
Starting in the mid-1970s, the now defunct Yerevan Automotive Factory (ErAZ) produced electricity-powered vans. These vans, like other Soviet-produced electric cars, did not take hold with consumers, however.
With few natural resources to offer, Armenia has been largely betting on science and technology, especially software production, to power its modest, $10.7-billion-economy. Last year, Armenia became the first post-Soviet country after Russia to produce its own smartphone, the Armphone, and a tablet computer, Armpad.