Going electric - a road trip through Germany | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 01.08.2016
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Going electric - a road trip through Germany

How good are German carmakers getting at building electric vehicles? Let's find out. DW's Joachim Eggers and Christian Roman tested five different e-cars on an extended road trip, shown in our new 6-part video series.

If you drive an electric car in Germany, you'll get to know a lot of people who will go out of their way to offer help. And that's a good thing, because at this point, you can't do a tour around Germany in an e-car without help. You're bound to run into some difficulties, because refueling e-cars on long-distance electric road trips remains, at this early stage of the technology's rollout, rather complicated.

When we started our road trip, we weren't aware just how unwieldy the seemingly simple task of charging the cars would be. We found ourselves stuck in remote industrial parks or mysterious parking spaces, staring at charging stations without a clue of how to get the current running. Eventually, though, over the course of 25 charging cycles, we went from being absolute beginners to becoming reasonably proficient electric car users.

Juice up the batteries - but where?

There isn't just one kind of e-vehicle charging station in Germany - there are lots of different kinds. The fastest will get you going in about 40 minutes. But if you're fresh out of luck, like we were at times, you may have to wait half a day before you can get going on the next leg of your trip.

You can't just stop for a charge at any old gas station or rest-stop along Germany highways. Only a few even offer electric charging stations. That means you'll occasionally have to take a detour off the fast track - sometimes to areas you wouldn't want to visit if you're all by yourself, especially not at night.

Geschichte der E-Mobilität

This electric car was on the market in 1900, produced by Jacob Lohner & Co. Early on in th history of motorcars, most vehicles were electric battery powered

It's quiet out there

We took five different German-made electric cars out for an extended road trip to test their performance. In two weeks, we covered 2,500 kilometers (1,553 miles).

So, what's it like to drive current-generation German e-vehicles on Germany's Autobahn, much of which has no speed limits?

In a nutshell, it's like this: Get prepared to be overtaken. A lot. We spent most of our time quietly gliding along in the wake of large trucks, using the eco-plus mode to save energy. But at least we moved quietly. Very quietly. Too quietly, in fact.

For one thing, there's none of the noise you get from a combustion engine. That's nice. But there was another reason for the silence in which we rode, as well: We didn't dare to turn on the radio. Doing so eats into your battery power.

The customer card maze

Thankfully, we had support from our followers on Twitter: "E-drivers help each other," Peter Bering from Electrify-BW, a club of aficionados, had tweeted. So we called him and his friend Daniel Betsch when we had problems. Like the time we were stuck at a charging station we couldn't unlock.

E-vehicle recharging post

E-vehicle recharging post: Too few recharging points in total, but way too many different access cards for different suppliers

The problem: to use the station, you need to have an account with the major German electricity provider running the station. Guess what? We didn't have one. And it wasn't the only time we had this problem. As we later discovered, there are 250 different customer cards in place to operate charging stations across Germany. You'd need to have a pretty gigantic wallet if you wanted to be able to charge your electric vehicle all over the country at any of the existing charging stations. What a nightmare!

Yesterday's technology?

Surprisingly, it was actually pretty difficult to convince German auto producers to make the vehicles available in the first place, then pick them up again once we were finished. We noticed a mismatch between car-makers' public pledges to invest billions in the development of electric vehicles and push the technology, and their hesitation to participate in our test.

German carmaker Daimler eventually supplied us with its latest model, available since 2014, saying it was "yesterday's technology" (a citation from Thomas Weber, Daimler Head of Development). Let's hope they'll soon come up with something new.

Follow us on our journey through the uncharted territory of electric mobility in Germany in our six-part video series for DW's "Made in Germany" show – soon available at dw.com/madeingermany.

Meanwhile, here's a short overview of the cars we took to the streets.

Watch video

The cars we tested

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