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FINANCE

‘How we used a government bonus to buy an electric car in Italy’

People looking to buy an electric car in Italy can now make huge savings on both the purchase price and the future running costs. But there is one catch, as writer Mark Hinshaw explains.

‘How we used a government bonus to buy an electric car in Italy'
The new Renault Zoe on the Le Marche coast. Photo: Sunny Savina Bertollini

We have owned a plain, black Kia Picanto for three years. Paid 2,000 euros cash for it. A basic car, it sports a radio, CD player, and AC but it has no cruise control. It’s been a good car. It was ten years old when we bought it and its been a dependable little workhorse. The fold-down rear seats and hatchback have allowed us to transport everything from groceries to IKEA furniture packs, to lumber. The body is in excellent shape. Indeed, it still looks almost new; no scratches or dents anywhere.  

READ ALSO: ‘Expect the unexpected’: What you need to know about driving in Italy

So, it quite pains me to think of soon dropping it off to be crushed into a cube by a giant compactor.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We recently decided to purchase an electric car. Neither of us has had one before and have not even driven a hybrid. I’ve owned maybe a dozen cars in my life – all standard internal combustion cars. I used to mentally calculate the miles per gallon consumed at each filling. I was never “in love” with any of them but the freedom of independent mobility was seductive enough to keep me doing trade-ins and upgrades every few years.

When electric cars began to appear in the US I was only mildly intrigued. Right. You can maybe use it in the city neighborhoods but forget about road trips. I never seriously considered one. Even despite knowing the facts about oil supply depletion, drilling in sensitive settings, and air pollution. 

To many Americans, having a car seems to be a birthright. It’s a bit of cognitive dissonance at work.

But, now that we live in Italy, a new world has opened up in the Old World. We have been looking at more than a dozen truly amazing electric cars; I had no idea the designs had progressed so far beyond the initial Spartan versions. Some are still pretty plain, but oh my, some resemble Italian racing cars. It finally dawned on some car designer that style sells. I was impressed.

After some viewings and test drives, we narrowed the selection to a Renault Zoe. A sleekly sculpted and brightly colored deep red body with a roomy interior marked by a flat computer screen on the dashboard. It runs more than 300 km between charges – a sizable road trip. The high tech / high style design matches the treats that go with it. By treats, I am referring to the financial incentives.

Incentives. This is what got us moving in this direction. The number and types are almost hard to believe.

First, there is the one-time grant from the Italian government – 10,000 euros are automatically deducted from the purchase price.

The “catch” is you must destroy your current petroleum-fueled vehicle. Hence, my sadness in the first paragraph. Italy is determined to phase out internal combustion. You cannot keep your old car. Not sell it. Not give it to friends or relatives. It is stripped of parts for recycling and the frame goes to the compactor as part of the deal. <a huge sigh>

Second, Renault offers its own sweet inducement. Perhaps after not selling many cars during the pandemic and having an over-supply of inventory, they are offering their own discount of another 6,000 euros. This is massive. 

The price dropped from 38,000 to 22,000.  In two big swoops.

Photo: Sunny Savina Bertollini

As Ron Popeil used to shout on late-night American TV about vegetable slicers: “But, wait, there’s more!”

Third, our auto insurance rate is reduced by up to 50%. We already pay an amount that seems not excessive, but this is a real bonus. 

For longer road trips, we used to rent a more comfortable car, spending hundreds per year on fees and supplemental insurance. When we went in to cancel the old policy and sign the new one, the agent handed over a partial refund – cash.  This in spite of the fact that the coverage was significantly greater.

Fourth – and I can barely fathom this one – we are allowed to drive into AND park inside Italy’s ZTLs, or ‘Zona Traffico Limitato’ areas.

These are common in Italian towns and cities. They forbid cars in certain places, except for those with residence permits. If you are caught inside one – usually by a camera kiosk with clear photo evidence of your guilt – you will soon receive a fine by mail that can approach 200 euros. Which increases hugely if not paid by a certain date. We would get several of these every year due to not knowing where the boundaries were or missing an important sign. It’s merely cold comfort to know we are not the only ones who get dinged. Even Italians can easily make this painful error.

Life in Italy: ‘How our shopping habits have changed since we moved from the US’

Fifth, and of no small importance, we avoid the required annual road tax and car inspections. 

Normally, these must be done; roadside stops by carabinieri police will often check that these are up to date. Woe to those who cannot produce current proof. You don’t want to know.

Finally, another unexpected benefit. The car can read signs indicating traffic allowable traffic speeds, even temporary ones for road construction. Driving to Rome would always net us a ticket in some remote suburb with a sudden reduced speed limit. The car automatically slows down to the limit when it sees the sign. 

We did the math. The savings from not buying gas, not maintaining an internal combustion car, not paying the normal taxes, no ZTL fines, no speeding tickets, and not needing to rent cars for long road trips means buying an electric car virtually pays for itself. Not quite, but close. Close enough for it to make a lot of sense. Which is exactly the point of the incentives.

One more little perk to add: If we upgrade the electric service for our house to 7kw, the electric utility will install a charging unit. So when we do that, there will be little need to go to a charging station. 

Photo: Mark Hinshaw

In the meantime, the mayor of our village tells us that four stations have been ordered and are soon to arrive. As with so many things, Fabrizio is really on top of municipal services. (He also recently got fiber optics installed for everyone.)

Now, we did need a loan to buy this car. Following some communication with our commercialista (accountant) for key numbers, the application was submitted to Renault HQ in France. We heard back within a few days and the loan was approved. We picked up the car ten days after we picked it out.  

We are already planning a road trip.

Mark Hinshaw is a retired city planner who moved to Le Marche with his wife two years ago. A former columnist for The Seattle Times, he contributes to journals, books and other publications.

Would you like to contribute a guest post to The Local? Get in touch.

Member comments

  1. Very interesting article. Can you tell me what village Mark Hinshaw lives in? It sounds like a great place to live!

      1. Thank you. Do you have earthquakes in that area? Do you speak fluent Italian? What is your broadband internet speed in mbps now that you have fiber optic cable? Do you get any American TV?
        Thank you so much for telling me where you live. Julir

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DRIVING

What are Italy’s rules on switching to winter tyres?

Italian road rules require a switch to winter tyres by mid-November. We take a look at how the requirements (and penalties) apply for the cold season.

What are Italy's rules on switching to winter tyres?

Though we may not have seen much in the way of adverse weather conditions so far – temperatures were far above season average throughout October – the winter cold appears to be just around the corner and so is the requirement for motorists to switch to winter tyres.

The window to make the change opened on October 15th, and the requirement and penalties for not following it will come into force on November 15th. 

By that date, all road vehicles will have to be equipped with winter tyres or, alternatively, have snow chains “on board”. 

READ ALSO: ‘Expect the unexpected’: What you need to know about driving in Italy

But, in typically Italian fashion, there’s far more to the rule than that. So, with less than two weeks to go until the winter tyres deadline, here’s what you should know about the requirements.

What areas do the rules apply to?

The Italian Highway Code along with a 2013 ministerial decree state that all road vehicles circulating on Italian soil must have winter tyres or snow chains on board from November 15th to April 15th.

However, the Code also gives local authorities (provinces, individual comuni and private highway operators) the power to modify national directives (including time limits) and/or bring in additional requirements according to the features of their own territory. 

Winter tire

All road vehicles circulating on Italian soil must have winter tires or snow chains on board from November 15th to April 15th. Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP

The result is a very fragmented legislative landscape, with rules often varying from region to region.

READ ALSO: Explained: Who needs to exchange their driving licence for an Italian one?

For instance, in Sardinia, only drivers travelling on Strada Statale 131 (‘Statale Carlo Felice‘), which connects Cagliari to Porto Torres, are required to have winter tyres on or keep snow chains on board.

Additionally, due to the region’s particularly favourable climate all year round, the requirement starts on December 1st, i.e. 15 days after other Italian regions, and ends on March 15th, that is one month before elsewhere in the country.

To keep track of all the rules applying to your region or province of residence, refer to the following website from Pneumatici Sotto Controllo.

You can also consult the following interactive map provided by Italian motorway company Autostrade per l’Italia. 

What types of tyres do I need?

Most winter tyres are marked with ‘M+S’ (or sometimes ‘M/S’), meaning ‘mud plus snow’.

Some winter tyres might carry the ‘3PMFS’ mark or a symbol consisting of a snowflake encircled by a three-peak mountain range. These tyres are largely recognised as the best tyres for winter conditions.

Both of the above categories are accepted under Italian law.

In terms of costs, the price of a single winter tyre goes from 50 to 200 euros, whereas fitting costs an average of 50 euros.

Tires in a garage.

The price of a single winter tire goes from 50 to 200 euros, whereas fitting costs an average of 50 euros. Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP

It’s worth noting that, by law, motorists are allowed to install just two winter tyres provided that such tyres belong to the same car axle.

But the Italian Transport Ministry advises drivers to install winter tyres on all four wheels to avoid potential grip and braking issues. 

Snow chains

Motorists can keep snow chains (catene da neve) on board as an alternative to the installation of winter tyres. 

However, your chosen set of snow chains must be compatible with your vehicle’s tyres.

Here’s a useful guide on what types of snow chains you’ll need based on the size of your car’s wheels.

Woman fitting her car with snow chains

Snow chains can be used as an alternative to winter tires but they have to be compatible with your vehicle’s wheels. Photo by Pascal POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

The asking price for a mid-range set of snow chains is generally somewhere between 70 and 90 euros.

Fines 

The Highway Code sets out hefty fines for those who don’t follow the rules.

In city centres and residential areas penalties can go from 41 to 168 euros, while fines can be as high as 335 euros on highways. 

As specified by Article 192 of the Code, law enforcement officers can also choose to issue a temporary ‘vehicle detention’ (fermo del veicolo). In this case, motorists will only be able to resume their journey once their vehicle is equipped with winter tyres or snow chains.

Motorcycles

The above winter season rules do not apply to motorcycles.

However, the 2013 ministerial decree states that motorcycles are not allowed on the roads in the event of snow or icy conditions.

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