Electric Cars

Unplugged in Berlin

German Minister of Education and Research Johanna Wanka stands on the balcony of her office at her ministry’s new location in Berlin. Source: dpa
German Minister of Education and Research Johanna Wanka stands on her office balcony in Berlin.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany has been missing interim targets on its way to the government’s goal of putting one million e-cars on the country’s roads by 2020.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The German government wants to gradually convert its vehicle fleet to electric autos. The unofficial target is said to be 10 percent e-cars.
    • Apart from Justice Minister Heiko Maas, Johanna Wanka is the only German cabinet member without an electro- or hybrid vehicle in her fleet.
    • A total of €83 million, or $90 million, annually is earmarked for investments in e-mobility by the government.
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    Audio

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German Minister of Education and Research Johanna Wanka moved into her new office in Berlin’s government district in November 2014. The ministry is just 300 meters from the capital’s main train station and a short walk from the federal press building.

Since then, Ms. Wanka’s spokespeople have been walking over to the press conferences to answer journalists’ questions three times a week.

But the move has come at a price: The future of Ms. Wanka’s ministry car fleet. In the past, the ministry had used its own electric car to drive its spokespeople over to the federal press conference building. The old ministry was 1.3 kilometers, or 0.8 miles, away. But now, Ms. Wanka has allowed the leasing contract to expire in April since the car is no longer needed.

Germany’s Ministry for Education and Research has eliminated completely environmentally friendly e-cars. These days, Ms. Wanka could not even have herself chauffeured to appointments with a hybrid alternative.

That is anything but innovative in a ministry responsible for innovation. Ms. Wanka, who relaxes in a Mercedes S-Class (350 BlueTEC) on long trips, is also clearly missing the targets of the governing right-left coalition. In the coalition agreement, it says under the heading electro-mobility: “The government will gradually convert its vehicle fleet.” The unofficial target is said to be 10 percent.

But rather than upgrading, Ms. Wanka decided to make cuts. What is particularly embarrassing for the innovation minister is that apart from Justice Minister Heiko Maas, she is the only German cabinet member without an electric or hybrid vehicle in their ministry. But Mr. Maas’ fleet is only comprised of nine vehicles and is not even half as large as hers.

Other ministries are way ahead of Ms. Wanka, as a WirtschaftsWoche survey showed. Minister of Transport Alexander Dobrindt has already converted 31 percent of his ministry’s fleet to completely or half-electric vehicles. The self-professed e-car fan drives a BMW i3 around Berlin. Health Minister Hermann Gröhe and Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks boast fleets comprised of one-fifth e-vehicles.

Ms. Wanka, who relaxes in a Mercedes S-Class on long trips, is clearly missing the targets of the governing right-left coalition.

The Ministry of Education and Research justifies its fleet strategy with economic considerations. It says the needs of the vehicle fleet have to be paramount – and e-cars are only suitable for short distances. The ministry’s new central location makes that kind of trip unnecessary. According to the ministry, the Federal Audit Office could also object to the comparably costly e-cars. But Ms. Wanka’s people are not able to coherently explain why this is apparently not a problem for other ministries

Even so, the ministry is to receive a hybrid vehicle in the fall; the contract is already signed, they say. But Ms. Wanka needs to do much more to help reach the government targets. According to the coalition agreement, by 2020 Germany is supposed to become a “leading market” for e-mobility.

Then there are to be “one million electro-cars in all variants” on German roads; the aim was to have sold 100,000 e-cars by the end of 2014. But statisticians register less than a quarter that. “We will not reach our goals without additional measures,” said Henning Kagermann.

The ex-SAP chief executive runs the National Platform for Electric Mobility and is calling for special tax breaks for e-cars. That would also help the ministries’ fleet managers to make their calculations. They regularly receive offers from sales people at leasing companies who deal with nothing but equipping the vehicle fleets at public authorities, city administrations and police forces.

Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt arrives with a BMW i3 e-car for a cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin. Source: REUTERS
Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt arrives with a BMW i3 e-car for a cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin. Source: REUTERS
Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt arrives with a BMW i3 e-car for a cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin. Source: REUTERS

 

But there are no discounts worth mentioning because the leasing rates are based on a vehicle’s residual value – and no one can reliably estimate that for the new electro-vehicles. There is no used car market for them yet.

And the German government is not currently planning any incentives of that kind. Instead, the Ministry of Education and Research is to set the course for Germany to reach the technological forefront in the field of e-vehicles. That also includes becoming particularly competent in developing the kind of batteries needed. “We want Germany to become a production location for batteries,” said Ms. Wanka’s ministry spokesperson. A total of €83 million, or $90 million, annually is earmarked for investments in e-mobility.

Ms. Wanka recently told the German trade journal “Auto, Motor und Sport” that the country has already made good progress in battery research. “But now the new developments have to be put on the road,” she said. Or at least in her own ministry.

 

This article first appeared in the business weekly WirtschaftsWoche. To contact the author: christian.schlesiger@wiwo.de

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