Can Germany Really Put One Million Electric Vehicles on the Road by 2020?

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BMW Active E Booty

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When it comes to road-worthy production model electric vehicles (EVs), Germany’s auto brands don’t come to mind first. I mean, the EV market belongs to Nissan, Chevy and now Ford, not Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi or even Volkswagen. So, how is it that German Chancellor Angela Merkel can claim she can get one million EVs on the road by 2020? That’s in just six car model years away and, in the car world, that’s like the blink of an eye in production years.

I’m not sure whether to hate or love Merkel at this point. She’s obviously part of the financial elite system of keeping the petro dollar alive and well and yet with this announcement she is giving this EV enthusiast and Mother Nature worshipper some hope.

What has given me hope about Germany all along, however, is the country’s surprising investment in solar power. It is perhaps this fact that makes me think Merkel is truly looking to the future of electric energy and is finally encouraging German auto makers to take EVs seriously.

According to Wikipedia, “Germany is the world’s top photovoltaics (solar panels or PV) installer, with a solar PV capacity as of December 2012 of more than 32.3 gigawatts (GW).” Wikipedia also goes on to claim new solar installations increased by about 7.6 GW in 2012 or about 3 percent of the country’s total electricity. And, Germany has a goal of “producing 35% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and 100% by 2050,” so continues Wikipedia.

And did you know about this fun “new energy” fact? “Germany set a world record for solar power production with 22 GW produced at midday on Friday 25 and Saturday 26 May 2012. This was a third of peak electricity needs on Friday and almost half on Saturday.” — Wikipedia

With such an investment and commitment to solar and sustainable energy, it just seems natural German auto makers would be busy churning out the world’s top EVs, right?

But that’s hardly the case. Mercedes-Benz doesn’t even have a road-worthy production car. MB’s F-cell is a hydrogen vehicle. MB subsidiary Smart has perhaps the most green and economical EV on the roads today with its 2013 smart electric drive. With just two seats, however, smart electric drive isn’t going to replace the family sedan.

And what about Audi, Volkswagen, Porsche and even Renault, which has a surprisingly aggressive EV program? (Let’s explore these EV models such as VW’s new e-up! and e-Golf another time, shall we?)

Only BMW has produced a true all-electric family sedan in its Active E (a concept model made into a demonstration car after the BMW’s MINI E) although it only seats four passengers. BMW is field testing 700 Active E vehicles in the USA and another 400 around the world.

2013 Smart EV Charging

1 Million EVs in Germany? Seriously?

I mean, one million EVs on the road by 2020, Merkel? Seriously? It’s like she just threw the “one million” number out there either just for shock value or because it made for eye-catching headlines. Who knows and who cares? What we green activists do know is that we need to curb carbon emissions quickly and for all time if we humans have any chance of surviving increasingly devastating climate change. Does Merkel truly see that too or is this just some financial game?

Whatever it is, we also know is this could be the turning point for that famed German engineering, which up until now has been pure ICE (internal combustion engine). Will the Germans finally take up the electric charge like Nissan, GM and Ford have done? Will they really spend their R&D and manufacturing dollars on true EVs to make Merkel’s one million mark come true by 2020?

Actually, the question is: Can it even be done? Let’s say this new government-backed EV production effort goes into effect by this winter 2014. For the next six years, that means German auto companies would have to build and sell around 166,666 electric vehicles each year (unless they import a whole lot of Nissan Leafs, Chevy Volts, Chevy Spark EVs and Ford’s lineup of EVs).

That’s quite a leap for a country that bought only 3,000 EVs last year. (Germany sells around three million vehicles annually.) And, studies have shown that nearly half of all Germans are not interested in paying a higher price for alternative energy vehicles, including hybrids.

Matthias Wissman, who is president of German Association of the Automotive Industry (known as VDA), made his own proclamation at the conference. “Driving electrically is no vision anymore, it’s a reality,” he said.

Wissman also noted the German auto industry has plans to invest around $15.5 billion to engineer and produce “alternative” powertrains and battery-powered electric cars in the next three to four years.

Nissan Leaf

No Incentives Equals Little Interest

Unfortunately, Germany’s Economy Minister Philipp Roesler may have quashed the “one million EVs by 2020” idea by refusing to offer government subsidies to those who purchase EVs (such as the $7,500 U.S. federal tax plus possible state and local credits and perks to which American can take advantage for every production model EV). Incentives seem to be the best chance of Germany’s EV movement to catch on, especially as frugal Germans are reluctant to spend more on a green car despite their chancellor’s urging.

Still, did you know GM has sold 5,300 Ampera cars (an EV from the Opel brand) in Europe in 2012? Ampera is actually the best-selling EV in Europe, so says GM.

And then there’s Norway.  Germany’s even more frugal Scandinavian neighbor Norway is the leader in EV purchases. Since Nissan introduced its Leaf in late 2011, the company has sold more than 3,300 Leafs in Norway. With so much interest in EVs, Norway is rapidly building a quick-charging infrastructure around the country.

Has Norway inspired Germany? And how will the four three top German car brands – Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Volkswagen – react to Merkel’s one million EV proclamation? EV enthusiasts around the world await the answer.

What do you think? Leave a comment!