German association Solar Mobility (BSM) should at least be known to those who attend automotive or energy trade shows from time to time. Since its founding in 1989, the BSM has had a large exhibit at many of these events and offers a variety of vehicle types – from solar-powered cars to electric buses – for attendees to touch and discuss. To some, the association may at first seem to cater primarily to visionary pioneers of the solar industry
, but its members have made every effort to raise public awareness without which end customers may have never known about the benefits of electric transportation. The association has also become a household name in political circles after it got involved in the design of the charging infrastructure regulations and the implementation of the EU’s AFI directive. The following is an interview with BSM chair Thomic Ruschmeyer, who sat down with us at the association’s Berlin office close to the Brandenburg Gate to talk about the industry’s successes and failures.
H2-international: In April, the federal government introduced the economic incentive and the draft law has been published in the Federal Gazette. Has it already led to a boost in electric car sales?
Ruschmeyer: I have recently come across the number of 1,700 applications submitted [by Aug. 2, 2016; editor’s note]. That is something, but there is no outright run on electric cars, at least not yet. It’s a good sign that something has – finally – happened, but the spread between EUR 3,000 for a hybrid and EUR 4,000 for an electric car is a bit modest.
H2-international: Do you think that hybrid cars enjoy one favorable condition too many?
Ruschmeyer: The incentive is geared toward the capabilities of the German automotive industry: combustion engines – electric drive for the hybrid version. Many of these plug-in hybrid cars, however, only offer room for an electric turbocharger. They aren’t designed for driving long distances electrically, but the grant amount you receive is relatively high.
H2-international: What is on the market today?
Ruschmeyer: Regarding electric-only vehicles, there is the VW e-up!, the e-Golf and the BMW i3. Ford offers something, Daimler does, but it’s still not as if you could just go to a car dealership and buy a car the usual way. If available at all, electric vehicles can be found more at the back of the showroom and then they are mostly for lease. Officially, you’re still talking about 30 electric vehicles on the market and 50,000 ones registered, but the numbers vary by a lot depending on who’s reporting them.
H2-international: Has someone already come around, meaning have any carmakers indicated that they would indeed push ahead with electric transportation?
At least, there is some change in attitude, and you would have to say “dieselgate” certainly played a big part in it all. …
H2-international: Let us talk a bit about the law on electric transportation. Are you satisfied with it?
Ruschmeyer: We’ve made it abundantly clear over and over that we do not think plug-in cars should be allowed to carry an e-label. The e-label is something we wanted and that we consider a success on our part. But if the plug-in hybrid version of a Porsche Panamera – I am speaking in hyperbole, of course – receives the label and you see them roaring past you on the bus lane, while you can’t do the same with a CityEl or an electric scooter that has a moped license plate, then the original goal has been slightly missed. It is also counterproductive to creating a favorable public opinion for the technology.
H2-international: How many bus lanes have been opened to electric cars?
Ruschmeyer: Almost none.
H2-international: And what about the other parts of the electric transportation law?
The i-MiEV, iON and C-Zero have their energy gauge so far down that you need to at least open the door to give a rough estimate of the battery status. Carmakers have promised improvements, but …
H2-international: Do you know of any other good government-initiated policies?
Ruschmeyer: The ten-year tax exemption for electric cars – for which the government often takes credit, although it isn’t in the law – is a joke, to be honest. The charging point regulations aren’t much different. If you look at the time it takes to get a charging station approved in a public space in Germany, you will have to expect lead times of six to eight months – and additional costs for staff. The process is much faster and less expensive in a country like the Netherlands.
H2-international: What will the market look like in the future? Volkswagen reportedly intends to set up its own battery factory. Is that realistic?
Ruschmeyer: Volkswagen’s hand has been forced somewhat and it needs to generate some revenue to pay off the penalties that were imposed. I do not think the battery factory will come in the shape and size that is being reported right now. You don’t just close the engine factory in Kassel and start producing batteries there. What I could imagine is that they develop cell configurations and start working on power electronics. But that a large corporation like VW abruptly changes course, that isn’t even possible structurally. It is no different at companies such as BMW, where technicians developing electric cars are rather the exception than the rule.
H2-international: But if an increasing number of electric cars does hit the road soon, what would battery charging look like? Billing in particular is still a complicated issue.
Ruschmeyer: If you want to charge an electric car the normal way when you are on the road, the best thing to do would be to integrate a power meter into the car – that would be relatively easy. The meter could have its own ID number and this number would be registered with the customer’s electric utility. A variety of SIM cards could be used to establish a connection to your house and record consumption.
H2-international: What about hydrogen: Some have begun to say that if electric cars like Tesla’s can guarantee a range of 500 kilometers (311 miles), there would not be a need for fuel cell vehicles anymore. Now, fuel cells are increasingly talked about as range extenders. What do you think?
Ruschmeyer: I am all for the latter, since range extenders are a pretty smart solution. Use the battery not just as a small buffer for braking energy, but for battery-electric driving in general and otherwise, get electricity from a fuel cell, which may even be optional. I can see this concept at work wherever more energy is required, even in aircraft, where I would rather trust the fuel cell for providing propulsion than batteries. What I do not believe to be a sensible solution is a fuel cell in city SUVs.
H2-international: Do you think that such plans will only be seriously considered after a possible change in government, e.g., by a conservative-Green Party coalition?
Ruschmeyer: Chances would probably be higher then, although they would be even higher if the Green Party were the major partner in this coalition (laughs).