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One million electric vehicles

Mobility turnaround in Germany: the current status

06.September 2021

When the term "mobility turnaround" comes up, the first association is often with battery-electric vehicles. The importance of these for a sustainable urban transportation landscape is undisputed, but often misinterpreted. The key is not to convert the fleet, but to downsize it; coupled with strengthening other forms of mobility.

The share of battery-electric passenger cars in the total number of new registrations is rising steadily. 33,420 pure electric vehicles were newly registered in June 2021 alone, representing a market share of 12.2%. In the previous month, it was around half a percentage point lower. Even though the growth rate again fell slightly in comparison, it remains at a high level of over 300%. Tesla achieved by far the most new registrations with its Model 3 (4,462), which is just behind Wolfsburg's e-Up year-on-year .

The target formulated in 2013 by German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) of having one million electric vehicles on German roads by 2020 was almost dramatically missed. Due to the rapid growth in the current year, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) was then able to announce the success story at the beginning of August: For the first time, one million electric vehicles are on German roads. Among these, purely battery-electric cars account for a share of just over 50%, with plug-in hybrids making up the remainder. The goal, which had been hovering in the distance, has thus been achieved after an eight-month delay; Economics Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) speaks of a "milestone."

© Sven Löffler

© Sven Löffler

Subsidies for the climate target

The main reason for the rapid upswing is obvious. In addition to the environmental bonus, which has been in effect since 2019 and granted buyers of electric vehicles a reimbursement of €4,000, there has also been the so-called innovation premium since July 2020. This involves doubling the government's share of the environmental bonus and is €9,000 for purely battery-electric vehicles and €6,750 for plug-in hybrids. If the purchase price of the vehicle exceeds €40,000, the additional payment is reduced to €7,500 and €5,625 respectively. In the small car segment in particular, the price difference between electric drive and combustion engine is becoming increasingly blurred in this way. For many consumers, this is the first step toward purchasing a CO2-neutral car.

Apart from the question whether the purchase of a 50.000 € expensive Tesla Model 3 must be subsidized, the crucial point lies elsewhere, as automobile expert Frank Schwope of the north LB reveals to the "comdirect magazine" in the interview. While the innovation premium is helpful for strengthening electromobility, it also harbors problematic issues. " I think the subsidy for plug-in hybrid vehicles is completely misguided ," he says, referring to a common problem: According to Schwope, many company car drivers "haven't even unpacked their charging cable yet" and constantly drive on diesel or gasoline. "Hybrid is a cheat," he complains. In fact, whether the electric motor is used at all is irrelevant either for receiving the premium or for inclusion in the registration statistics.

Environmental benefits depend on many factors

The non-governmental organization ICCT, the International Council on Clean Transportation, recently examined the individual environmental balances of battery-electric and hybrid passenger cars in a study. The result of the ICCT study: pure electric cars save about 60 to 70 % of emissions, while plug-in hybrids only emit about 25 % less pollutants than conventional vehicles with combustion engines. Peter Mock of the ICCT summarizes the results on Deutschlandfunk radio: The potential savings would be far greater through a collective switch to purely battery-electric vehicles. But here, too, a specification is needed.

Small, light, economical

BUND transport expert Jens Hilgenberg, for example, emphasizes the importance of a responsible automotive market - also and especially in the area of electromobility: "We can't afford to put huge, resource-guzzling vehicles with ever greater ranges on the roads." Not every electric car is an improvement, he adds. Hilgenberg states that the e-car can only make its contribution to the mobility revolution if it is "small, light and economical" . Among other things, he points to competitively increasing ranges that require the installation of large, heavy and resource-intensive batteries - although an expansion of the publicly accessible charging infrastructure would completely invalidate the range discussion.

However, multimodality is also particularly important to address the problems of urban transport, as Andreas Knie, a transport researcher at Berlin's Social Science Research Center, explained in an interview with Deutschlandfunk back in 2018: "We need to think fundamentally about how we want to move around cities in the future. That can only be done with less traffic equipment that is used better and more intelligently." He argues that there are too many cars on German roads - no matter what drive they ultimately use to get around. Success, Knie says, lies in a move away from ownership and toward sharing concepts. Nevertheless, local public transport also has a high priority, he said.

Transport turnaround only works holistically

Integrated concepts aimed at improving the prerequisites for mobility that is both ownership- and friction-free are in the process of being developed in many places. This is also the case in the Ruhr metropolis of Essen, which has always been dominated by automobiles, where the city's transport authorities are working to achieve a balanced modal split. Under the name "4 x 25 percent target" , around 75 % of all journeys are to be made by environmental means - on foot, by bike or by public transport - by 2035. Since the plan was drawn up, Ruhrbahn GmbH has been gradually implementing the necessary infrastructure in the existing transport network, with great success, as CEO Michael Feller confirms in an interview with polis. Among the measures are mobility hubs, on-demand shuttles with electric drives, various sharing services, and an app that knows how to link all these options together in a meaningful way as needed.

Nevertheless, the relevance of public transport is not ignored. As early as 2025, a new streetcar line will go into service, connecting east and west and relieving the bottleneck in the subway tunnel. A hydrogen bus is currently still in test operation, and the implementation of the alternative fuel in road-based local transport is to follow as soon as the added benefit has been certified. The fact that the city is also working to expand the charging infrastructure for individual electric cars rounds off the mobility concept in the center of the Ruhr region.

"After all, the car is so attractive because it enables unrestricted mobility while also providing the fastest route. That's exactly the comfort we offer our customers."

Michael Feller
Ruhrbahn GmbH

The priorities must be right

The rapid increase in new registrations of electric cars reflects a rethinking among the population. The essential importance of switching from fossil to regenerative drives is a building block of the mobility turnaround, which, according to experts, cannot be decided "on the road" alone, but only in a balanced interplay of the various forms of mobility in urban areas. Many experts agree that the pursuit of ever greater ranges tends to have a detrimental effect on the planet's condition, as does following the ongoing (e-)SUV trend. Moreover, plug-in hybrids, which require more resources to build due to the installation of two engines and are only ecologically profitable if the gasoline engine remains switched off for the overwhelming majority of kilometers traveled, remain a problem zone in the synopsis of expert assessments.

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