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Electric cars

February 25, 2011

Germany is targeting a fleet of one million electric cars by 2020. But the path forward isn’t clear, and some say the country needs to pick up the pace to protect the future of its auto industry.

An electric car
Auto manufacturing is vital to Germany's economyImage: picture alliance/dpa

Electric cars need perks if the market is ever to take off, says the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers' Association (ZVEI).

The association believes the best way to kick-start the electric car market in Germany is to offer incentives like the use of bus lanes to skirt past traffic, free parking in reserved spots and tax breaks.

Although the German government hopes to see 1 million electric vehicles on the country's roads by 2020, it's not doing enough to set an example, according to ZVEI. The association points to China, which aims to put 500,000 electric vehicles on the road in 2012 and the French government's decision to buy 50,000 for its own use.

The race to put electric cars on the road isn't just about innovation and production power, says ZVEI spokesman Andreas Abs; it's also about developing a market for used electric vehicles, which consumers can more readily afford.

France's decision to equip its government fleet with electric vehicles "creates a strong market impulse," Abs told Deutsche Welle. "In five or six years, there will be a veritable market for used electric vehicles."

And China, Abs believes, could eventually pull ahead of Germany when it comes to automotive expertise.

German autobahn
Electric cars still have a long way to go to fill German autobahnsImage: AP

"Anyone with 500,000 electric cars on the market is going to acquire early experience with that technology," he said. "That's why we simply need to do more. The government needs to do more. The automobile industry is a significant part of our industry, and we can't afford to stand by and watch."

But if electric cars are to gain widespread appeal, there have to be obvious advantages to owning one. Among other things, that means an attractive infrastructure to service them and incentives to buy them.

Tax breaks and more

For a start, ZVEI recommends temporarily lifting Germany's 40 percent tax on electricity for consumers charging electric vehicles. The industry group also suggests introducing an interchangeable license plate similar to Switzerland's, which can simply be swapped between a conventional and electric car. Such a plate would reduce insurance and licensing costs as an incentive.

"We believe progress can be made with practical suggestions that don't necessarily cost money right away in the sense of a premium for electric vehicles," Abs said.

While ZVEI doesn't advocate direct subsidies, it does believe the German government should invest more in research, particularly in batteries. The association recommends doubling government funding to 1 billion euros or more.

"Instead of seeing money invested at the back-end with a premium for purchasing, we want to see it invested at the front-end in research and development because that's more difficult for a company that needs to make money on its products," Abs said. "We also need a smart grid, which fills the batteries of an electric car whenever wind turbines are turning. That's particularly appealing because consumers will then know that the electricity they're using to drive with wasn't generated by burning fossil fuels."

Author: Gerhard Schneibel
Editor: John Blau

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