BERLIN — If you get an electric car in Germany, you will be rewarded with a hefty cash injection: a 4,000-euro environmental bonus has been available for the past three years for every new e-car purchase. But the results of the incentive so far have been disappointing. Many charging stations in cities are still empty. At the beginning of 2019, only 83,200 electric cars were registered in Germany — and the number is growing slowly. Currently, only one out of every 100 new cars sold is powered by electricity. In Norway, a world leader in the energy transition, every third new car is electric.

Why are Germans not making headway in this area that's so important for the climate? Researchers have been looking for answers. In a study done by the Berlin-based Ecologic Institute on behalf of Greenpeace, scientists compare the effectiveness of ten measures that are already being used in different countries. Germany's funding practices do not get a good grade, with the report concluding that financial incentives are not enough in Germany. Instead, fixed quotas for manufacturers should be introduced to make real headway.

Many charging stations in cities are still empty.

"Purchase premiums alone are expensive and do not bring e-cars out of the niche," says Greenpeace transport expert Benjamin Stephan. "CO2 emissions in transport only drop rapidly when climate-damaging cars become more expensive at the same time." In order to reach climate goals, new registrations of cars with internal combustion engine should have to be prohibited from 2025, Greenpeace explains.

The study could also stimulate the debate in Germany. Because the government's climate commission is currently investigating measures on how to massively expand climate-friendly mobility. Their resolutions are due in September.

Norway could serve as a good example, say the scientists, with its mix of funding instruments. Starting with the charging infrastructure, which of course is of central importance. The state should grant even higher subsidies here, as long as electric charging stations are not economically viable. It is also important to sequence the right support measures: Regions and municipalities could release bus lanes or free parking spaces for electric cars.

Charging station in Storgata, Norway — Photo: Worfmann

But such concessions should be limited in time and attract only the e-car pioneers. Because public transport is the most environmentally-friendly way of getting around. Benefits for electric-car drivers should "not be accompanied by a reduction in the attractiveness of bus transport." What is more important, according to Greenpeace, is that the state and administration switch to e-cars for their companies and work vehicles. That would set the right example.

Public transport is the most environmentally-friendly way of getting around.

In a second wave of support, automakers and governments should work together to support cheaper e-cars in particular, via purchase incentives and tax rebates, as is customary in California, while taxing larger burners at a higher rate. This would make e-cars affordable for the middle class and thus increase the number of units. Incidentally, researchers are thus in line with the world's largest car manufacturer Volkswagen, which recently presented a paper making similar points.

No wonder: New cars in Europe will soon be able to emit only 95 grams per kilometer of carbon dioxide on average. This limit will continue to decline. That can only be reached with a considerable number of electric cars, so it is a de-facto electric car "quota." Greenpeace suggests naming it that way — sending a clear and crucial message that society must radically change course.


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