German Embassy event explores policies, challenges of EVs

In a prelude to the 2018 MobilityTalks International, the Germany Embassy in Washington sponsored a new event onsite at the Auto Show this year on    e-mobility in the U.S. and Germany, with an introduction by German Ambassador Peter Wittig.


“It’s becoming a necessity to invest in renewable energy,” said

Ambassador Wittig. Germany has set aside $300 million for 15,000 charging stations for electric vehicles. As a first step, the German embassy in Washington plans to convert its vehicle fleet to plug-in electrics. The ambassador also said he is anticipating the “disruptive” nature of autonomous vehicles.


A few obstacles remain before the U.S. fully embraces electrified vehicles, said Robert Atkinson, founder and president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and keynote speaker at the German Embassy event. There is still a competition between building a more efficient internal combustion engine and creating better fuel cells and electric vehicles, he said.


In another category are autonomous vehicles, where Atkinson said “the hype has gotten ahead of reality.” He said it will be about 15 years before AVs are on the road in large numbers. One positive aspect will be that many fewer auto body shops will be needed because AVs won’t get into as many accidents.

“Will the U.S. and Europe support polices to incentivize electric cars and driverless cars?” queried Atkinson. That remains to be seen. China, which has only recently created a mass market for consumer ownership of cars, has invested $15 billion in electric vehicles and is aggressively rolling out charging stations across the country.


Europe has a $4.00/gallon carbon tax, yet the EV penetration is the same as in the U.S., he said. The high cost of gas simply induces people to walk or take the bus.


“We need to find a way to make battery technology better,” Atkinson said. Batteries need to be smaller, lighter, cheaper and have a longer range, even in very cold weather. And we will need many more charging stations.


In the future, EV owners may be able to charge their car at home overnight, then sell it back to the grid during periods of peak use. But that would require a “smart” grid.


Part of the disincentive for EVs is political, said Atkinson. “The internal combustion engine is going to be the new coal,” he said. “We have a vested interest to defend the coal industry. I see some similarity.”


A comment from William Craven, senior manager for regulatory affairs at Daimler of North America, on a panel afterward, cut to the heart of the difficulty in raising  EV sale. “The concern I have,” he said, “is, what is the added value for the customer? Customers are very happy with what they drive today.”

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