Is bigger, heavier, stronger really the answer? A recent study by the German Aerospace Center has examined the potential of lightweight electric vehicles.
A guest article by Werner Köstle in the current eMove360° magazine in german language
The fact that battery-powered electric mobility is the most sensible mobility concept for the near future is now hardly disputed. But even electric cars, which are mainly used in urban areas, are tending to become bigger, heavier and more powerful. Doesn’t this lead to a new “dead end”?
The boom in cargo pedelecs is a good example of how things can be done differently. They have great potential, especially for families and logistics companies, which is not being fully exploited today. But other two- and three-wheeled concepts can also often be an ideal solution, such as electric mopeds, trikes and motorcycles. And micro-cars, with top speeds of 45 or 90 km/h, are amazingly efficient representatives of individual mobility. That leaves the “real” e-cars. The success of the Dacia Spring, for example, speaks for itself. The French (and Chinese) brands are currently doing a lot in this direction, while German manufacturers are struggling in this segment.
The DLR study
The German Aerospace Center recently investigated the potential of lightweight electric vehicles in private transportation. The study drew a hypothetical picture for the year 2030, in which light vehicles exploit their full potential with otherwise unchanged mobility behavior, i.e. a roughly constant share of individual traffic in total traffic volume.
The result: “Half of the kilometers currently driven by car in Germany could theoretically also be covered by light electric vehicles. This would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 40 percent compared to journeys in conventionally powered cars. That would be around 57 million tons fewer emissions per year.
The reasons: 80 percent of journeys are shorter than 20 kilometers. Every day, almost 30 million car journeys of less than two kilometers are made in Germany and a further 30 million journeys of less than five kilometers.
Laura Gebhardt, one of the authors of the study, concludes: “In view of these figures, it is clear that a large car is not necessarily required for such short distances, but that LEVs are definitely an alternative. They continue to enable individual mobility, just in a much more sustainable way”. And Simone Ehrenberger, another author, gives an impressive example from the study: “An electric microcar with a top speed of 125 kilometers per hour could theoretically cover half of the kilometers driven by car… The production of microcars only generates around a third of the greenhouse gas emissions of a mid-range electric car.”
“LEVs currently only occupy a small niche in the vehicle market. The means for change are there, what is missing is the will to implement them,” say the authors of the study. “In order for the theoretical potential of light electric vehicles identified in the study to be realized, supporting measures are necessary – for example, to increase their acceptance. Incentives for purchase and use, regulatory measures, the development of the necessary infrastructure and more comfortable and safe vehicle concepts are also part of this,” they conclude.
The “little ones” are rehearsing the uprising
Sometimes an “ancien regime” leads to an uprising, sometimes even a revolution. And movement in this direction is indeed emerging: e.g. in the form of the “Microcars Coalition”. The founding members are Microlino, Citytransformer and Circle Mobility. Their declared aim is to declare war on the oversizing of private transport vehicles, especially in Germany. This is because there is virtually no awareness of vehicles in the L6e and L7e registration classes here. The initiators are convinced that other manufacturers, associations and other players will join the coalition and that this will give light vehicles an audible voice in the concert of industrial lobbying.
A similar development is emerging in the area of commercial short-distance transportation. Here, it is the “AllianZ Smart Urban Logistic” (SUL), an association or network of logistics experts, which aims to show how urban logistics can work with the use of appropriate means by means of concrete examples. Under the motto “Small – light – electric”, the alliance offers municipalities, companies and regions vehicles from its partners Cenntro and vR Bikes as well as the expertise of Ju-Know, PlugX and DirectCharge free of charge in order to test concepts holistically and permanently in everyday life – unlike in most cases.
“There is huge potential for three- or four-wheeled electric light vehicles that can do exactly what is needed today for short distances and, above all, in inner-city areas where space is tight: city logistics with vehicles that are fast, quiet and environmentally friendly, take up very little space and pay for themselves very quickly,” says Franz Fabian, Head of vR Bikes Germany and co-founder of AllianZ Smart Urban Logistic.
Demands on politicians
It is certainly not possible to impose a cultural change “from above”. But politicians could at least create stronger incentives. Up to now, there have been no nationwide subsidies for vehicles in the relevant registration classes. On the contrary: the environmental bonus and tax privileges bring e-cars in vehicle segments A and B very close to light vehicles in terms of price, making it difficult for the consumer to choose one in view of the near parity in price. Municipalities such as Munich, which have integrated such vehicles into their subsidy program from the outset, are an exception.
An image campaign would undoubtedly also be beneficial. Firstly, to increase awareness of these vehicles and secondly, to communicate the possibilities and opportunities that these vehicles offer and have to a wider circle of citizens. In this way, they could possibly develop in the same way as pedelecs and cargo e-bikes have done.
Finally, these efforts should also be flanked by infrastructural measures. Be it traffic space taken away from cars, trouble-free routes without intersections or special entry regulations in cities.
A recent analysis by the Transport & Environment association, which is calling for a Europe-wide strategy to promote small electric vehicles, comes to a very similar conclusion. Friederike Piper from T&E Germany: “Smaller electric cars are the biggest contribution we can make to reducing our consumption of battery raw materials. We should use an EU efficiency standard to oblige car manufacturers to finally offer more resource-efficient all-electric vehicles that are also more affordable than today’s oversized SUVs”.
All politicians at EU, federal and local level should be more than aware by now that time is pressing. Suitable tools for implementation are finally available with this study and the developing interest group.