BMBF’s “Energy offensive 2030” future congress – world champions in patents for alternative powertrains – number of e-models trebles – digitization and “e-fuels” bring additional opportunities
“The German automotive industry is investing 39 billion euros worldwide in research and development – twice as much as it did ten years ago. This industry accounts for about 35 percent of all investments in R+D by German businesses. This puts it in the lead, way ahead of other sectors. Over 110,000 people are employed in the R+D departments of German manufacturers and suppliers,” stressed Matthias Wissmann, President of the German Association of the Automotive Industries (VDA) and Vice President of the Federation of German Industry (BDI). He was speaking at the future congress entitled “Energy offensive 2030” organized by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in Berlin.
The major investment focuses were modern powertrain technologies: “Our companies are spending a total of 40 billion euros in the period up to 2020 on the ongoing development of electric mobility alone. This is a huge effort, because these billions have to be earned from current business, that is, from the sales of cars with conventional drivetrains,” Wissmann explained. He drew attention to a recent study by the ifo Institute, which showed that the German OEMs and suppliers were international leaders in patents on alternative powertrains: worldwide, one in three patents in the fields of electric mobility (34 percent) and hybrid drive (32 percent) comes from Germany.
“By 2020 the German auto makers will more than treble their range of electric models – from the current 30 to nearly 100. Today the German providers lead on markets where the ramp-up has got off to a better start,” Wissmann emphasized. For example, in 2016 the market share of electric cars going to German group brands in Norway came to 58 percent, in Sweden it was 50 percent and in the Netherlands it was a whole 65 percent. And in the US one in five new e-cars sold comes from a German maker.
“McKinsey’s latest Electric Vehicle Index shows that at present Germany is the second largest producer of electric vehicles, coming after China but ahead of the US. McKinsey assumes that in five years Germany will actually be the world’s largest producer of electric cars – with its 1.3 million e-cars putting it well ahead of the US and China, on around 850,000 vehicles each,” Wissmann said.
He expects that sales of e-models will increase step by step: “With all new technologies, growth is not linear, but rises gradually after an initial start-up phase. The market for electric cars is already growing much faster than the overall passenger car market. In the first four months of the current year, new registrations of e-cars increased by a good 87 percent, while the total passenger car market added 3 percent. According to some manufacturers, in 2025 electric vehicles could account for 15 to 25 percent of new registrations in Europe,” Wissmann underscored.
Yet parallel to that, the charging infrastructure had to be put in place and expanded: “The German Government’s promotional funding of 300 million euros from 2017 to 2020 for building and expanding the charging infrastructure, and the installation of 400 rapid charging pillars by Tank & Rast at freeway service areas by the end of 2017, are important and correct steps to take. We estimate that this can result in around 15,000 public charging points and several thousand rapid charging stations.”
Wissmann pointed out that the German manufacturers were also going on the offensive in this field: “Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen’s brands Audi and Porsche are teaming up with the Ford group to install a rapid charging network on European freeways. This initiative indicates just how seriously the German OEMs take electric mobility, and that they are minded to tackle this project standing shoulder to shoulder. It demonstrates that the switch to electric mobility is in full swing. This is not only about the future of the automotive industry – but also a strategic preparation for Germany as a location for technology and industry.”
Alongside the massive promotion for alternative powertrains, the German auto industry was continuing to work on saving fossil fuels – made possible by optimizing both gasoline and diesel vehicles. Wissmann stressed: “Modern, very clean diesel engines will remain an essential component for reaching the CO2 targets in the medium term, owing to their low consumption.” The efficiency of both diesel and gasoline vehicles could be expected to increase by at least another 10 to 15 percent in the coming years.
“Yet at the same time we are conducting intensive research into petroleum-independent ‘e-fuels.’ These are fuels for combustions engines, which are produced from renewable energy such as the sun and wind. They are actually climate-neutral because they bind about the same amount of CO2 during their production as they release upon combustion. ‘E-fuels’ offer the fascinating prospect of using conventional powertrain technologies in a CO2-neutral manner. They can contribute to comprehensive decarbonization of the transport sector because they exert their effects directly in the fleet,” Wissmann explained.
“‘E-fuels’ can be used to store excess capacity from renewable forms of energy like wind and solar power, until it is actually needed. For example, excess power can be used in transport for a climate-related end. This link would make the transport sector a crucial element in an effective switch to alternative energy. Linking sectors in this way is ultimately the key to the successful and complete decarbonization of the transport sector,” the VDA president underscored.
The necessary technology was already available, Wissmann continued. “However, some changes to the regulatory conditions will be required in order to make the market competitive and motivate investors to create European production capacity. The key to that – in addition to taxes and levies in the individual Member States – is the possibility of taking climate-neutrally produced fuels into account for vehicle makers’ CO2 fleet balance,” he said.
Another focus of innovation in the German automotive industry was connected and automated driving, the VDA president pointed out, adding: “The German auto industry’s share of all patents worldwide for connected and automated driving is 58 percent. Here, too, we want to remain in the lead. That is why the German automotive industry is investing another 16 to 18 billion euros in digitization technologies over the next three to four years.”
Automated driving would help to greatly reduce fuel consumption and emissions, limit the need for land used for transportation, and improve road safety. Wissmann said, “The German automotive industry therefore supports the Federal Government’s strategy of making Germany the leading market for connected and automated driving. The regulations introduced for automated driving in the German Road Traffic Act (StVG) create legal certainty for customers and auto manufacturers. Demanding requirements have rightly been formulated for vehicle technology, but also for OEMs’ and customers’ obligations relating to information.”