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E-cars in the slow lane

June 20, 2012

The German government's plan to get a million electric cars onto the roads by 2020 are bound to end in failure, automobile experts say. A national electromobility platform is still full of hope.

Smart Fortwo E-Drive being recharged
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

A German government plan to get a million electric cars on the roads by 2020 may well end up as nothing but a dream, car industry experts said on Wednesday.

"Electromobility in Germany is about to die," the director of the Automotive Research Center at Duisburg-Essen University, Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, told DPA news agency.

Back in 2009, the German government announced the ambitious plan that pundits are now calling into question.

"As things look today, we may reach a tenth of that goal, if we're lucky," Dudenhöffer said, implying that only about 100,000 e-cars would be in use by the end of the decade.

German WWF activist Viviane Raddatz accused German carmakers of relying too much on government subsidies, rather than focusing on more intelligent technical solutions.

"The undertone of the domestic auto industry is 'we haven't received enough funding, so small wonder we haven't made much progress,'" Raddatz told reporters.

A more optimistic note came from the National Electromobility Platform, a panel of businessmen, politicians, trade unionists and scientists who presented a progress report on the promotion of e-cars to Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday.

The head of the platform, Henning Kargermann, admitted that under current circumstances a maximum of 600,000 electric cars could be on the roads by 2020. He said there were not enough incentives to attract people's interest in the cars.

"To achieve a breakthrough on this front is a marathon endeavor," he said.

Too expensive, too late?

The government has exempted electric cars from some vehicle taxes, in the hopes that will help make Germany the top supplier and market for e-cars.

By 2014, German automakers aim to provide 15 different electric car models for ordinary consumers, with an initial pre-marketing investment of 17 billion euros ($21.6 billion). But it will all be a matter of pricing in the end.

Daimler has only recently announced the launch later this year of its Smart Fortwo E-Drive. But it will cost twice as much as its corresponding petrol-powered car.

And while German e-car production is still in its infancy, foreign carmakers such as Mitsubishi are already selling electric vehicles in Germany.

Nonetheless, only 2,044 such cars were licensed in the country in 2011, with only 1,478 added in the first five months of this year.

"We don't just need sporadic e-car tests in selected German regions," said Dudenhöffer, arguing that other measures would be required to draw consumers' interest.

He suggested introducing inner-city zones that were accessible to e-cars and large-scale electric car-sharing schemes to make the vehicles more visible.

hg/ncy (AFP, dpa)