Delayed revolution

Will e-mobility finally take off? Despite low sales figures worldwide, the majo­rity of experts agree: we’ll be driving electrically in the future—thanks especially to new technologies and modern forms of transportation such as car sharing.

Text Tino Scholz

The first thing the minister does after answering his cell phone is apologize. Ketil Solvik-Olsen explains that it could get a bit loud in the next couple of minutes since he’s sitting in a 1971 Chrysler 300. A car collector’s dream, but with its outmoded combustion engine, not very quiet. The car, on loan from a musician friend of his, is rattling its way back to the capital Oslo, where Solvik-Olsen, the Norwegian Minister of Transport and Communications, still has several appointments. In the interim he’s looking forward to talking about one of his favorite topics: e-mobility.

But the minister is fairly quick to defuse the apparent contradiction. “E-mobility and cars with combustion engines are not mutually exclusive,” he explains. “Nothing’s being forbidden in Norway and we’re still interested in the future despite this.” With the “we,” Solvik-Olsen means the Norwegians: almost one in every four new vehicle registrations in the country is an electrically powered car. Given its relatively low number of inhabitants, Norway thereby takes top place in electric cars per capita worldwide. By far. Despite this, there are still plenty of non-electric cars driving on the streets. “The transition is going to gain in strength,” he says. “Not just here, but all over the world. But it’s a process. And there’s no use in forcing the changeover.”


It seems that this e-revolution is being delayed a bit. Over the past ten years, the impetus was always described as inevitable. Yet even today, in the country doing the most on this front, the minister of transport still drives to his appointments in a gas-guzzler. This discrepancy naturally raises the question about the future of this type of electric transportation: will electric cars always remain a niche product? Or will they finally take off? And if they do, which form will they take?

Keeping things in perspective, sales figures for electric vehicles are at barely noticeable levels. The frontrunner among the major economies in 2015 was Great Britain, with 1.1 percent of new car registrations. Worldwide at the moment there are about 1.2 million electric vehicles on the move—among an estimated 1.2 billion vehicles overall.

Farewell Status Symbol

TÜV SÜD Global Head of E-Mobility Volker Blandow isn’t discouraged by the figures. He prefers looking at the positive signs of an electric mobility transition—for instance the statistics that show how many percentage points sales have risen in different countries in comparison to the previous year.

“In this branch in particular, it’s essential to know how the market is developing from year to year,” Blandow explains. The rise in 2015: 10 percent in the United States, 45 percent in Germany and over 300 percent in China.

This is why Blandow, who in his position at TÜV SÜD advances this issue internationally, goes a bit further than Norwegian Solvik-Olsen in his vision for the future. “I firmly believe that the first countries will ban cars with combustion engines by 2025. After 2030, there won’t be any future for the cars because they no longer will offer any benefits—neither on price, on operating range, nor for the environment.”

According to Blandow’s reasoning, vehicles with fuel cells—and the infrastructure they require—will be widely available by then and will fill in where the operational range of battery-powered cars doesn’t quite reach.

<h2>Ketil Solvik-Olsen, 44, Norwegian Minister of Transport</h2> <p class="no-indentation">Future is a word that Ketil Solvik-Olsen uses a lot. And he states that e-mobility is the future. But cars with combustion engines are also the future—though with a much shorter half-life than the electric ones. Solvik-Olsen is a practiced politician: he doesn’t want to exclude anything or anyone. He preaches a gentle transition into the future. “Why should we take something away from people that they still love right now?”</p>

Ketil Solvik-Olsen, 44, Norwegian Minister of Transport

Future is a word that Ketil Solvik-Olsen uses a lot. And he states that e-mobility is the future. But cars with combustion engines are also the future—though with a much shorter half-life than the electric ones. Solvik-Olsen is a practiced politician: he doesn’t want to exclude anything or anyone. He preaches a gentle transition into the future. “Why should we take something away from people that they still love right now?”

The Concept of Intermobility

Blandow is also confident about the future of electromobility because of two other current trends in the automobile industry that are tremendously accelerating the departure of the gasoline engine: car sharing and automated driving. The vision for the future looks like this: cars as expensive ownership items will become increasingly scarce, while there will be increasing numbers of large fleets of independent vehicles. These will be scattered around the streets simply waiting for a customer’s signal—and then, fully autonomously, will automatically drive the customer from point A to point B. “The older generation might be somewhat wary of it,” Blandow says, “but the younger generation now growing up is one where owning your own car is increasingly diminishing in value as a status symbol. These people don’t have any emotional attachment to cars. They’ll be much more likely to live the concept of intermobility.”

In the future, allowing yourself to be comfortably driven around instead of wasting valuable time driving yourself means time saved, just as choosing economical sharing models over the expense of owning a car saves both time and money. Blandow, concluding his argument, says, “And electromobility will consequently prevail as the mode of driving because it will also be the most sensible and best solution.”

“We don’t know exactly what mobility will look like in the future in our cities,” Solvik-Olsen agrees. “But we know that electric vehicles will play a leading role. They are the best match to these concepts since they’re economical in transit, protect the environment and are just perfect for inner-city traffic due to their low noise levels.” Even e-mobility’s limited operating range (as compared to vehicles with combustion engines) has few drawbacks considering the relatively short journeys through urban traffic.


It almost goes without saying: the revolution in automobiles will not happen overnight. In Germany, for instance, fewer than one million people use car-sharing services in a country with around 45 million licensed passenger vehicles. But the number is climbing, slowly but surely. Frost & Sullivan, a consulting agency, estimates that in ten years, 36 million people around the world will be using shared vehicles. And as far as automated driving is concerned: realistic forecasts estimate that cars will be able to take on about 90 to 95 percent of driving activities by the year 2030. Electric vehicles are just the first step in this process.

Whether it’s five, ten or twenty years: the projected breakthrough for e-mobility is already getting companies worldwide all charged up—literally. The most conspicuous among the new players: the electrical sports car manufacturer Tesla. Its newly designed Model 3, a mid-range car for 35,000 USD, is supposed to hit the market towards the end of 2017. Around 400,000 units have already been ordered. “In addition, three to four companies in the United States alone have positioned themselves to shake up the electric vehicle market in five years,” Blandow says.

<h2>Volker Blandow, 52, is Global Head of e-mobility at TÜV SÜD</h2> <p class="no-indentation">Volker Blandow advances the topic of e-mobility across all departments at TÜV SÜD and networks the company with the most important players in the field around the world.</p>

Volker Blandow, 52, is Global Head of e-mobility at TÜV SÜD

Volker Blandow advances the topic of e-mobility across all departments at TÜV SÜD and networks the company with the most important players in the field around the world.

Chinese companies want to use the expected e-vehicle boom to catch up to the global leaders in automobile manufacturing. Since 2005 the state has been investing billions into developing technical expertise. Eight percent of all cars produced in China will be electric vehicles by 2020. The spearhead of this offensive is the company Build Your Dreams, or BYD for short. Since 2003, BYD, a battery manufacturer based in Shenzhen, has been manufacturing passenger vehicles. The company has meanwhile become the world’s largest manufacturer. “The new players aren’t used to developing only one product over the course of a decade,” Blandow explains. “They think in three- or four-year cycles. Then the product has to be available.”

The race for the biggest pieces of the future e-mobility pie has long been underway. And many established car manufacturers were caught completely off guard by this development.


Successful Race to Catch Up

“The world loves German inventions, but the world isn’t waiting for German inventions,” said Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel back in 2011—at a ceremony marking the one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary of the automobile, of all things. This was at about the same time as Deutsche Post, a German mail and courier company, turned to the automakers in the country asking them to produce an environmentally friendly van. Due to the lack of interest, Deutsche Post decided to take things into their own hands and collaborated with a start-up at RWTH Aachen University. By now, e-vehicles are being manufactured under the Deutsche Post name.

The car manufacturers’ previous reluctance has long since dissipated in the mother country of motorization. “The German auto industry ignored the development of electric vehicles for a very long time,” Blandow explains, “but caught up very quickly. Considering the number and quality of the vehicles, they’re at the forefront of the field, maybe even perhaps in the lead worldwide.”

In 2020, for instance, Daimler aims to produce electric vehicles in the hundreds of thousands. BMW is planning to equip already existing vehicle models with an electric motor, including some of the larger vehicle classes. VW is focusing on developing a quick-charging battery, with ranges of 500 to 600 kilometers. VW’s objective: to have 20 to 25 percent of total sales coming from electric vehicles by the year 2025.

How many of these will be driving around Norway remains to be seen. But the Scandinavian country isn’t content to have just one-quarter of all cars on the roads be electric vehicles. They’re planning for an electric revolution. Minister Solvik-Olsen believes that discussions about cars with combustion engines or electric motors will soon be obsolete in any case.

While he’s driving the Chrysler, he recalls another pioneering development in road transportation. “The discussions about combustion engines and electric vehicles is just like it was back in the day with horses and the first cars,” he says. “When cars appeared, horses continued to be used for transportation. But more and more people switched over to cars because they offered more advantages. That will happen again. There will continue to be gas-guzzlers, but with increasing numbers of electric vehicles in relation to them.” These are the sorts of statements that were being tossed about five years ago, but weren’t able to deliver as promised. It seems that this time around, technology may have finally caught up to these former musings.



Norwegian Oasis

Norwegian Oasis

Norway is already two steps ahead compared to many other European countries: while some places are still arguing about the right strategy to take to boost the sales of electric vehicles (EV), Norway is already arranging to throttle the incentives. The privileges for electric vehicles will be reduced over the coming years. And starting in 2018, the country plans to gradually scale back the tax incentives for the purchase of a new electric vehicle.

Purchasers of a new car with a combustion engine in Norway currently pay a very expensive, one-time registration fee that depends on factors such as the engine’s carbon-dioxide emissions and the car’s weight. It averages about 100,000 Norwegian krones—about 11,000 euros. When purchasing electric vehicles, this fee is completely waived, as is the 25 percent value-added tax. So the boom in electric vehicles was financed with hefty tax breaks that cost about 420 million euros annually.

Norway was able to afford them in the past: it’s the world’s fifth largest oil exporter. Critics speculate that now, in times of volatile oil prices, Norway is downsizing its EV program. It will be interesting to see what effect this has: around 80 percent of the people who bought EVs in Norway did it because of the price advantages, not because they consciously wanted to do something good for the environment. Yet after just three years, 73 percent of those who bought one couldn’t imagine ever buying a car with a combustion engine again, even if the prices were the same.

Norway has set a goal to limit carbon dioxide emissions for cars to 85 grams per kilometer on average by 2020, with the aim of becoming an especially low-emission society by the year 2050. One advantage they have in this is the ecological orientation of their electricity generation: more than 97 percent comes from regenerative sources, hydropower especially. Anyone driving between Oslo and Nordkapp with an EV is driving (almost) without creating any emissions.

The Norwegian Minister of Transport Ketil Solvik-Olsen, however, is optimistic and thoroughly relaxed. Sure, when he drives to meetings he takes the car with the combustion engine, he says. “But I ride my bicycle to and from work.”



The future market: e-mobility

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TÜV SÜD tests e-car batteries.