The elec­tric car race is on

Car mak­ers are rac­ing to catch up with Tesla with new fo­cus on de­vel­op­ing ‘ green’ ve­hi­cles

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING - ALWYN VILJOEN

WHILE the Bei­jing Auto Show last week un­veiled a slew of elec­tric cars that shows where China’s traf­fic is head­ing, Ger­many also saw three im­por­tant de­vel­op­ments that will take Europe closer to qui­etly hum­ming roads.

In the first de­vel­op­ment, share­hold­ers at Daim­ler’s an­nual meet­ing an­grily de­manded to know how the board planned to counter Tesla’s suc­cess in Ger­many.

In the sec­ond de­vel­op­ment, Volk­swa­gen Group’s CEO Matthias Müller said the com­pany will launch new elec­tric ve­hi­cles and fo­cus on car- shar­ing as it seeks to get past its scan­dal over cheat­ing on diesel emis­sions tests.

And the third de­vel­op­ment was the Ger­man govern­ment’s an­nounce­ment of a € 1 bil­lion in­cen­tive scheme to sub­sidise the sale of elec­tric cars and boost the num­ber of recharg­ing sta­tions in the coun­try.

Daim­ler aim­ing for Tesla

Af­ter share­hold­ers crit­i­cised Daim­ler for not of­fer­ing sim­i­lar pop­u­lar ve­hi­cles as Tesla, chair­per­son of Mercedes par­ent Daim­ler, Di­eter Zetsche, pointed out that Elon Musk’s com­pany is still los­ing money, some­thing the share­hold­ers will not tol­er­ate for long.

Yet Tesla sold more elec­tric cars in Ger­many last year than any other brand, selling 1 582 Model S cars in Ger­many in 2015. That com­pares with sales of 1 051 BMW i3s, 1 161 all- elec­tric Mercedes, 676 elec­tric Smarts and 796 elec­tric VW Golfs.

And even Elon Musk was sur­prised when over 325 000 peo­ple put down a $ 1 000 de­posit for its Model 3 sedan with no firm de­liv­ery date.

Zetsche said Daim­ler plans to counter Tesla with an all- elec­tric car with a range of up to 500 km.

Buy elec­tric with one click

The Ger­man govern­ment plans to sub­sidise sales of new elec­tric ve­hi­cles with € 4 000 and plug- in hy­brids by € 3 000, shar­ing this dis­count with car mak­ers.

The re­bate will only be availa- ble on cars cost­ing less than € 60 000 and it be­gan on Worker’s Day.

Sig­mar Gabriel, Eco­nomics min­is­ter, said the pro­gramme is de­signed to boost the num­ber of elec­tric cars on Ger­man roads from 50 000 cur­rently to more than 500 000, al­though he did not spec­ify a date. Ger­many has pre­vi­ously an­nounced a goal of one mil­lion elec­tric cars on Ger­man roads by 2020.

Merc is not alone in plan­ning for the green rev­o­lu­tion. Green Car re­ports that BMW plans an ex­tended- range elec­tric model larger than the cur­rent i3, pos­si­bly called i5, Audi will launch an all- elec­tric SUV in 2018, based on the e- tron quat­tro con­cept from the 2015 Frank­furt Mo­tor Show, and Porsche will launch a pro­duc­tion ver­sion of its Mis­sion E sedan con­cept, also un­veiled last year in Frank­furt, be­fore 2020.

But Clau­dia Kem­fert, head of en­ergy, trans­port, and en­vi­ron­ment at the Ger­man In­sti­tute for Eco­nomic Re­search, warned that these car mak­ers will have to move faster.

She said the Ger­man car mak­ers are be­hind but they have the re­sources to quickly over­take Tesla, which must still build the fac­tory to build those al­most over 325 000 Tesla S mod­els.

No more blow­ing smoke

The VW Group plans to launch over 20 new mod­els in the next four years, most of them hy­brid elec­tric ve­hi­cles us­ing VW’s Mod­u­lar Elec­tri­fi­ca­tion Tool­kit, or MEB for short.

“We plan to make elec­tric cars one of Volk­swa­gen’s new hall­marks,” Müller said.

The group also plans strate­gic in­vest­ments in fields with high earn­ing po­ten­tial, which in­cludes pro­vid­ing mo­bil­ity as a ser­vice to cater for GenZ who don’t want to wait for the bus, but also don’t want to own their own car.

Müller said that work­ing through the diesel­gate fall­out will dom­i­nate ac­tiv­i­ties at Volk­swa­gen for the rest of the year. “This will re­main our most im­por­tant task un­til the very last ve­hi­cle has been put in or­der,” he as­sured.

With the soft­ware ma­nip­u­la­tion of diesel en­gines at Volk­swa­gen, rules were bro­ken and eth­i­cal bound­aries over­stepped. “We sin­cerely re­gret this. Also be­cause we know that we have dis­ap­pointed many peo­ple — peo­ple who have placed their trust in Volk­swa­gen.

“We stand by our re­spon­si­bil­ity. And we are do­ing ev­ery­thing in our power to re­gain trust,” Müller stressed.

PHOTO: ROADSCHOLARS

Hy­brid cars are noth­ing new. The 1896 Arm­strong Phaeton is the old­est known hy­brid car that pre­dates the Lohner- Porsche by four years and the Toy­ota Prius by 100 years. Dutch col­lec­tor Evert Louw­man bought the Arm­strong for $ 483 400 at Bon­hams in April for dis­play at his mu­seum in The Hague, Nether­lands.

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