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Silicon Autobahn - No pain, no gain, but will it fly? 
Peter Schmidt | Editor

Published: Fri, 02nd December 2016 12:46:17 GMT

Porsche Mission E Merkel Müller IAA Frankfurt

Open quote signIn case you’ve missed it, a handful of Europe’s carmakers, chiefly those most likely to miss the fast approaching 2021 95g/km average fleet CO2 level, have begun an electric car (BEV) push strategy. Anyone mindful of Europe’s at best static BEV market, would have expected little else. 

No one of sound mind, given a choice, will spend money if they don’t have to. 

The carmakers are no exception. 

So what are we going to make of this week’s German autoindustry announcement to spend serious money on the creation of an initial 400 ultra-fast recharging stations for BEVs along some of Europe’s major roads and motorways? 

Now, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

Reading from their newly logged flightplan, this will be stepped up progressively. 

“By 2020 the customers should have access to thousands of high-powered charging points”, the newly formed consortium said. 

The autoindustry’s sudden spending spree, aimed at BEVs, reflects a serious and intensifying bout of anxiousness. 

Booted into action by the nightmare scenario of having to fork out billions of euros in penalties for failing to comply with the EU’s tough 2021 fleet average CO2 norms, Germany’s prestige carmakers know full well that between now and then, so-called zero-emission cars, as a proportion of the cars they sell in EU Europe, has to rise significantly. 

So much for the theory. 

Today’s stark reality is, the vast majority of Europe’s new car buyers, despite tax funded subsidies in many markets are not even remotely interested in today’s electric cars. 

That’s borne out by AID’s own figures showing that in the ten months to October this year the sales share going to BEVs in Western Europe remained stuck at a paltry 0.63 per cent. 

October’s nightmare news for the BEV industry: Electric car sales did not rise, but fell 15.7 per cent. 

That’s the 5th fall in the past 6-months. 

Yes, notable infrastructure improvement might encourage potential BEV buyers still sitting on the fence. 

Food for thought. 

Have a peek at Germany’s market for CNG-powered (Compressed Natural Gas) cars. 

Not so long ago, Europe’s carmakers still saw significant merit in the green credentials of CNG fuelled cars. 

To get this particular ball rolling, in best chicken and egg manner, much effort was deployed to establish a comprehensive CNG refuelling network. 

To judge the success of this strategy, October sales of CNG powered cars in Germany slumped 30 per cent to 305 units, bringing the numbers sold there during the ten months to October this year to 2,713 cars. 

Even BEVs, with 9,937 German sales to date performed better. 

Given German carmakers’ decision to boost the number of genuinely high-power BEV recharging stations in key European locations, is there reason to believe that anything will change? 

By close of next year, thanks to their efforts, there’s hope that electric car drivers will be able to drive from Berlin to Barcelona and Prague to Paris without the dreaded range anxiety. 

But whether that cuts any ice with Joe Public, interested at best in a battery powered Golf, Leaf or possibly Zoe, remains an altogether different question. 

Evidently, apart from vital improvements in both infrastructure and real-life vehicle range to say 300 plus kilometres, one crucial issue in the purchase decision is pricing. 

By the time an e-Golf can be bought for the same price as a same model diesel, demand is likely to pick-up notably. 

Lastly, compared with eye-watering EU penalties for missing the 2021 CO2 average limits, for some prestige carmakers it may be more cost effective to sell their BEVs at a loss. 

But, companies, be warned: As illustrated by today’s sluggish demand for CNG powered cars in Germany, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink.
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