Germany jumps in the race for viable
Aug 19, 2009 - The Associated Press
Forget that they're cramped, have a limited driving
range and outstrip the average consumer's pocketbook.
The race is on to create a viable electric car.
Germany - home to brands including Volkswagen, Porsche
and BMW - became the latest country to fast track
development of electric cars, the government approving
a plan Wednesday that aims to put 1 million of them
on the road by 2020.
The goal is ambitious. Of the 41 million cars in
the country, only 1,452 are electric, and Germany
is entering an increasingly congested field.
This month alone, Nissan Motor Co. in Japan unveiled
the Leaf, an electric car scheduled to go into mass
production for a global market in 2012. General Motors
touted triple-digit mileage figures for its rechargeable
Chevrolet Volt. And President Barack Obama committed
$2.4 billion in federal grants to develop next-generation
electric vehicles and batteries in the U.S.
To help bring Germany up to speed, the government
plans to spend some euro500 million ($705 million)
on the plan over the next three years - including
euro115 million ($164 million) to establish eight
test regions examining how the cars could best be
It plans to put euro170 million ($242 million) into
battery research, making domestic production a priority
and ensuring that German experts are trained in the
"It is important that we couple a decreasing dependency
on oil imports with not suddenly becoming dependent
on battery imports," Economy Minister Karl-Theodor
zu Guttenberg said.
The massive, sensitive, costly and fast-depleting
batteries that take the place of international combustion
engines and gasoline are expensive to produce, and
countries like South Korea and Japan are far ahead
in research and development.
Electric cars are also more limited than their gas-guzzling
cousins, running 40 and 120 miles (60 to 200 kilometers)
on a charge, while taking anywhere from two to seven
hours to fully recharge.
Guttenberg said a market introduction plan would
be examined, and financing would be a question for
the government that emerges from Germany's Sept. 27
However, while the plan calls for electric cars to
be put on the market starting in 2012, it does not
specify what if any incentives might be offered to
would-be buyers - a point criticized as a weakness.
Electric cars are becoming a more common sight in
European cities where the streets are narrow, parking
spots are rare and traffic is thick.
From London - where hundreds of the two-seater G-Wiz
ply the streets - to Berlin, the demand for the small
vehicles is forecast to rise even as a long-lasting
battery remains out of reach.
Analysts expect global production of purely electric
cars to expand rapidly in the coming years. IHS Global
Insight forecast that it will grow from nearly 9,500
this year to more than 58,000 in 2011.
Jay Nagley, the publisher of Clean Green Cars, a
British online guide to environmentally friendly vehicles,
said the G-Wiz, while ubiquitous, is technically not
a car but an "electronic quadricycle."
He said the G-Wiz had limited appeal outside the
British capital, where wealthier residents use it
mostly to avoid parking fees and the city's hefty
"It's pretty expensive paying seven grand for a
four-wheeled motorcycle. You'd be pretty brave to
take it outside the city center," he said.
In April, London Mayor Boris Johnson launched a plan
to get 100,000 electric cars onto the streets of London
by 2015, including the creation of 25,000 charging
He promised electric motorists an exemption from
the congestion charge imposed on drivers in central
London, an annual savings of up to 1,700 pounds (about
Germany's Volkswagen AG, Europe's biggest automaker,
has said it hopes to introduce its first electric
cars on the market in 2013. Daimler AG, which has
been testing an electric version of its two-seater
Smart, is working with California-based electric car
maker Tesla Motors Inc. on developing better battery
and electric drive systems.
Tesla has earned praise for its low-slung Roadster,
a $109,000 two-seat sports car that can get more than
200 miles on a single charge.
In the U.S., General Motors Co. plans to offer the
Volt - a hybrid electric car - next year at a cost
of about $40,000.
Ford Motor Co. will also offer an all-electric commercial
van in 2010 and plans to have three other electric
vehicles available in the U.S. by 2012. Johnson Controls-Saft,
which will supply the battery system for the plug-in
hybrid electric vehicle, is a joint venture between
auto parts maker Johnson Controls Inc. and Paris-based
battery producer Saft SA. Both companies are receiving
tax credits and other incentives to assemble the cars
and battery packs in the U.S.
Elsewhere, rival Mitsubishi Motors Corp. launched
an electric vehicle in June, the 4.59 million yen
($48,300) i-MiEV, and other companies have plans in
German officials insisted their country hasn't missed
the boat. Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee said
even Japan hasn't yet achieved a "real breakthrough."
The government noted that the cars' batteries currently
cost up to euro15,000 ($21,000), and wrestling the
cost down will be important. They said other measures
that will be considered include incentives such as
special traffic lanes or parking spots for electric
AP Auto Writer Kimberly S. Johnson in Detroit and
Associated Press Writer Raphael Satter in London contributed
to this report.