In the debate about alternative future mobility concepts, whether for public or private transport, electric drive technologies have been taking on an increasingly prominent role for several years and are often even used as a synonym for sustainable travel. The steady progress in the industry is not set to take a break in 2021 either – despite the coronavirus crisis.
The current picture
With working from home, restrictions on social contact and the shutdown of the retail sector, it should not be too surprising to learn that registration figures for new cars in Germany declined in the wake of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Compared with the previous year, 20 per cent fewer vehicles were registered, the sharpest decline since the crisis years following the financial crash of 2008. However, the decline has not affected all parts of the automotive industry equally.
Last year, alternative drive systems, a category that includes hybrid and plug-in solutions in addition to electric motors, accounted for around a quarter of all new registrations – a new record. Vehicles with purely electric drives saw their sales increase by over 200per cent, more than doubling their share of Germany’s total passenger car fleet. Here, 1.2 per cent of all vehicles are now battery-electric. If the other alternative drive types are included in the calculation, this figure rises to as much as 3.6 per cent.
Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) releases a monthly overview (in German only) of new registrations of “clean” vehicles. These statistics reveal the current trend: while around 8,400 electric cars were registered in September 2019, this figure rose to 21,888 just one year later, i.e. almost three times as many. Growth of almost 125 per cent separates the months of February 2020 and 2021 – an increase from 14,716 to 18,278 vehicles. Cars powered solely by combustion engines accounted for about 60 per cent of registrations.
Popularity of German manufacturers grows
Of the 394,940 vehicles with electric drives newly registered in 2020, 17.4 per cent were built by Volkswagen. Mercedes and Audi (14.9 per cent and 9.0 per cent respectively) take second and third place in this ranking but have been overtaken in the league table of purely battery-electric models by Renault and Tesla (16.2 per cent and 8.6 per cent respectively), while the Wolfsburg-based manufacturer retains first place (23.8 per cent).
These developments show that Germany, although initially hesitant in comparison with China and the USA, for example, can certainly keep up in the international market for future mobility and has managed to adapt production to the needs of the future. This trend is confirmed in the figures for the overall fleet.
Good outlook for the future
There is currently no sign of the upward trend in the e-mobility industry coming to an end in Germany, at least not in the long term. For the 2021 financial year, Deloitte (article in German only) forecasts an increase in the share of alternative drives to 11 per cent, linked, among other things, to the continuation of the Federal Government’s buyer’s subsidy of up to Euro 6,000 until December. As a consequence, the market share is expected to drop to 8 per cent in the following year before rising again to 38 per cent in 2030. The structural requirements for this – which in this case include an adjustment of the electricity price as well as innovation funding for future projects – are already built into an economic stimulus package that was passed by the German government in June 2020.
New regulations, new mindset
In addition to the strong increase in demand over the long term, some changes are also on the horizon from a technological perspective. From July 2021, EU Regulation 540 will oblige manufacturers to fit electric vehicles with an Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS), which is to say that vehicles must be provided with an artificial driving noise. The reason being that, as pleasant as a city without traffic noise may seem in theory, it is just as dangerous in reality. Especially at low speeds, electric cars can pose a serious risk to pedestrians, because – without modification – the volume of the sound these vehicles produce when moving in traffic-calmed areas is comparable to that of a standard room fan. It’s only when travelling above 20 km/h that the rolling of the tyres creates the necessary level of noise, meaning that artificial sound has to be added below this speed.
The fact that the automotive industry’s new technologies are capable of creating more than just appealing soundscapes, however, is demonstrated by models such as the Tesla Model S Plaid or the Audi e-tron GT, both of which will appear on the market in the course of this year. The new flagship car from California has been a source of annoyance for the competition thanks to its 840 km range and brand-new 4680 battery cell, which cuts costs while providing six times the power and thus raises the bar for e-vehicles – again. Audi counters with an above-average energy efficiency of just 20 kWh per 100 km and an equally impressive range of 480 km.
Will an iCar be available soon?
According to forecasts, one potential development in the current year could be an electric car designed by Apple and realised as a collaborative project, in which smart technology is expected to take on a whole new dimension. Some media reports suggest that Hyundai could be responsible for manufacturing the vehicle in a possible partnership. However, the company has already denied this and pointed out that Apple is still negotiating with other carmakers. Other sources claim that the negotiations have collapsed and suggest Apple may be working with contract manufacturers such as Foxcomm or Magna. In any case, experts speculate that – assuming an agreement is reached – it could be realistic to expect the first test vehicles as early as 2022. So, once again, we can eagerly anticipate the developments in California.
In 2021, productivity and the spirit of innovation in the automotive industry will reveal the long-term direction of travel for trends in the sector. As things stand, the crisis appears to have largely been to the detriment of the combustion engine and the advantage of future technologies. What is key now is whether the tailwind can actually be converted into energy on a sustainable basis.