E-Mobility: Many standpoints, one common goal

September 22, 2020

No other topic is currently driving the change in the auto industry as much as electromobility. Commercial fleets, in particular, play a key role in ramping up the electric vehicle market. To examine the challenges involved, Volkswagen Financial Services organized a stakeholder dialog in Berlin together with its long-standing cooperation partner NABU (Naturschutzbund Deutschland e.V.), the German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union. In-depth discussions took place with corporate customers, manufacturers, politicians, ministerial representatives, industry associations and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) – always with strict adherence to the hygiene measures and social distancing rules.

"Without getting electric vehicles up and running on the market quickly, there will be no environmentally friendly individual mobility in the future," said Jörg-Andreas Krüger, President of NABU, getting to the heart of the matter right at the beginning of the event. Commercial fleets, which account for two thirds of the new vehicles registered each year, play a major role here. Or to put it another way: according to the National Control Center for E-Mobility, around 4.5 million fleet vehicles from 1.5 million different fleets are traveling around on Germany's roads. "Due to the high mileage and the relatively short leasing cycles, we have a huge lever to quickly bring e-vehicles to the used car market and so reduce the CO2 emissions there too," explained Armin Villinger, who co-hosted the dialog event and is responsible for Sales Germany as Chief Representative of Volkswagen Leasing GmbH. NABU and Volkswagen Financial Services have worked together as partners for more than ten years with the common goal of making vehicle fleets friendlier to the environment and at the same time carrying out nature conservation and climate protection projects. The main focus is on the renaturation of moorland landscapes that have dried out and emit large quantities of greenhouse gases. With emissions amounting to more than 45 million metric tons of CO2 in Germany, moorland is currently the second-largest single source after the energy-related emissions.

How different the viewpoints on e-mobility can be in company fleets was already evident early on in a round-table discussion among fleet customers. Pierre Rudolph, Fleet Manager at CG Elementum GmbH, for example, aims to achieve an e-car share of between 50 and 60 percent in five years and stressed that his drivers "really fancy the idea of e-mobility". Rüdiger Becker, Chairman of the Board of the Evangelical Foundation Neuerkerode, has a somewhat different perspective on the matter. He explained: "Although we are totally committed to electrifying our fleet, the whole project is extremely complex. We are still at the very outset and need extensive advice. After all, we manage our fleet of vehicles on the side, so to speak. It is not our core competence." Minimax, on the other hand, is already further as a company. At the moment, its fleet manager Jasper Frahm still mainly uses plug-in hybrids. Going forward, however, electric vehicles are to be added to the pool as well. But Frahm also pointed out: "Home charging is still a challenging problem right now because it brings together complex legal questions." Oliver Mackprang, CEO of the Berlin-based car sharing provider Miles Mobility, sees matters a little more critically: "From an ecological point of view, I would dearly like to include electric vehicles in our fleet. But from an economic point of view, that's just not possible at present."

One question that came up again and again during the course of the day asked whether the power supply networks will be able to meet the additional electricity requirements for electric vehicles. The good news came from Andrees Gentzsch, Member of the General Executive Management Board of the BDEW, the German Association of Energy and Water Industries: "The networks will manage it. We will have the capacity in Germany for seven to ten million electric vehicles by 2030." However, investments have to be made in the low-voltage distribution grid, he added, because it is not currently possible everywhere for everyone in residential areas to charge their vehicles at a particular time of day at the same time. Something that can already be seen today as positive is the number of existing charging points, Gentzsch insisted. "The expansion of the charging infrastructure must take place in sync with the market ramp-up of the vehicles. With 30,000 charging points now available in Germany, we are well set up at the moment." What we have to do now, he concluded, is to focus on quality rather quantity – for example along the motorways.

Questions posed by the presenter and business journalist Ursula Weidenfeld also focused on the e-mobility funding landscape. Oliver Braune from the National Organization for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NOW) gave an overview, admitting at the same time that the interaction of the various funding programs at federal and state level is highly complex. That was why Roman Kasten, a specialist lawyer for traffic and employment law, gave the following tip: "When analyzing and applying for grants and subsidies, I advise bringing in external know-how so that unpleasant surprises can be avoided and having to pay back subsidies does not become a relevant possibility." Derek von Rönn, Head of Business Model Sales E-Mobility at Volkswagen AG, also voiced encouragement to all those in charge of fleets: "You learn how e-mobility works very rapidly as soon as you start with a few vehicles. Then you can scale up quickly. We are currently at the starting point with our electrification. But I think we'll be making our breakthrough in the coming weeks and months".

At the latest during the final discussion, the full complexity of the picture when looking at e-mobility and the changes in mobility showed itself. Cem Özdemir, Member of the German Bundestag for Alliance 90/The Greens and Chairman of the Committee on Transport and Digital Infrastructure in the Bundestag, appealed to the capacity for transformation in the auto industry and criticized the partial devotion to the combustion engine: "The matter is settled. E-mobility will come. The German automotive industry should not cling to old technologies. After all, we all know what happened to companies like Nokia and Telefunken, who failed to recognize the dominant trends." Hildegard Müller, President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), agreed in principle with his statement, but also stressed: "The entire industry is under great pressure. That applies to a lot of the component suppliers as well." Daniel Rieger, Head of Transport Policy at NABU, criticized the plug-in hybrid vehicle: "It turns out that the environmental balance of plug-ins is anything but good. Politicians should make adjustments to the financial incentives in this area. Because , ultimately, the question is how much climate protection are taxpayers getting for their money." Armin Villinger put this criticism into perspective: "In its role as an entry technology into e-mobility, we should not demonize the plug-in hybrid. Instead, we should sensitize drivers to use the technology correctly. There are lots of scenarios in which the plug-in hybrid – if used correctly – can play out its strengths. The new generation of vehicles with their higher ranges in electric mode will further substantiate their merit."

Despite the different standpoints and perspectives, everyone agreed in the end that the change from combustion engine to electric mobility is only a matter of time. With their Blue Fleet electromobility program, Volkswagen Financial Services will be supporting their customers on this path.

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