Can e-cars thrive in wake of emissions scandal?
The Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal has raised serious questions about the viability of diesel as a clean energy source. Could this be the chance to dominate Germany that electric cars have been waiting for?
The scandal which has hit Volkswagen over manipulated emissions output controls is growing by the day.
Last week the company admitted that to installing a software program which ensures that a car's nitric oxide emissions only comply with standards when it detects that it is undergoing official testing.
The diesel engines fitted with the test-cheating component are in millions of cars worldwide, including a massive fleet of Audi diesel vehicles.
But research released by ADAC, Germany's biggest car club, on Friday shows that Volkswagen is far from the only sinner when it comes to over-polluting.
Of the 150 cars tested by the car club, 70 did not meet European emissions standards. The worst offender, the luxury 4x4 Range Rover from Land Rover, pollutes sixteen times more than the legal limit, ADAC's test showed.
Dr. Christian Buric of ADAC told The Local that emissions regulations in Europe for nitric oxide are currently laxer than in the USA. But this is about to change, with tougher regulations coming into force in 2017.
"It will be ever harder for diesel and petrol motors to comply with these standards," he warned.
But there was a clear winner in the ADAC testing – the electronic car.
E-cars do not produce any nitric oxide, Buric points out, although they still come linked to a CO2 output created when the electricity that powers them is generated.
E-cars to the rescue?
In a case of opportune timing, Elon Musk, the founder of e-car company Tesla, visited Berlin last week to speak with Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.
Musk encouraged Germany to take the lead in developing more environmentally friendly automobiles.
Germany has "wonderful manufacturers and exceptional engineers", Musk said. "The very best people must be put to the task.“
And there are some baby steps already being taken.
In June the government passed a new 'electro-mobility law' designed to provide advantages to e-car owners.
As of Saturday e-cars will be provided with a special license plate which will provide perks including free parking in cities and permission to drive in bus lanes.
Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt promised that the law would have "a real effect."
Meanwhile, at the IAA car show in Frankfurt earlier this month Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged that the government would make a decision on state subsidies for e-car manufacturers before the year is out.
Government statistics confirm that e-cars are becoming more popular. According to numbers from the Federal Office for Vehicles 6,456 e-cars were licensed in the first 8 months of 2015 – a 61.4 percent increase on the same period in 2014.
But this number is still only 0.4 percent of the total amount of cars licensed in that period. And the government is far short of hitting a target of having one million e-cars on German roads by 2020, with the current total not yet into six digits.
Porsche's Mission E, unveiled at the IAA in Frankfurt. Photo: DPA
Indeed, at the IAA in Frankfurt in September the impression that the e-car is still a luxury of the elite seemed to be confirmed, as VW subsidiaries Audi and Porsche both unveiled spectacular e-car designs.
Audi's e-tron quattro is an urban 4x4 set to go into production in 2018 and has a range of 500 kilometres.
Meanwhile, Porsche's Mission E apes the looks of the carmaker's classic 911, can go from 0 to 100 in 3.5 seconds and has a similar range to the Audi model.
Current market leader Tesla's current models range from €61,000 to €124,000, Musk has announced plans for a cheaper "Model 3" which will cost €31,000 set for production in two years' time.
But for Buric of the ADAC these numbers are still too high.
"I don't see the current scandal leading to an e-car boom," he cautions, saying that German motorists "look for something that can take them long distances and is affordable."
"E-cars are still too expensive,“ he concluded.