chapter  14
17 Pages

eMobility in Germany: prospects for and barriers to sustainable mobility WEERT CANzLER

Introduction: the crisis of the classic automobile and electromobility Despite or because of its decades-long success, the classic automobile is not a model for the future. At this moment, close to one billion cars are being driven, parked or are caught in traffic jams around the globe. If its proliferation continues with a dynamic similar to that of recent decades, a fleet of vehicles numbering over two billion will have to be reckoned with in 2030. Given an equally continuing urbanization, there will not be enough space for so many cars in congested population centres. In addition to this comes the increasing consumption of fuel and emission of pollutants that would be associated with a doubling of the worldwide fleet of vehicles. The gains in efficiency in conventional drive technology that can be expected, as well as the increasing percentage of biofuels, will not be sufficient to compensate for such growth. Consequently, the limits of the all-purpose combustion engine vehicle are foreseeable (Sperling and Gordon, 2009; Urry and Dennis, 2009; Nieuwenhuis and Wells, 2008). Seen in this context, innovation in electromobility (eMobility) takes on a special significance. eMobility is not only an alternative drive technology that can be substituted for the combustion engine that has dominated until now,1 it could revolutionize transport altogether because it differs decisively from conventional automobility. It is not confined to the fact that electric vehicles emit no exhaust gas and hardly make any noise – at least not where they are in use. With reduced driving distances on the one hand and longer charging times on the other, they effectively mean a farewell to the all-purpose vehicle that is ready for use at all times. Added to that are highly different driving characteristics of electric cars by comparison to traditional vehicles. Not only in Germany is the automotive industry under considerable pressure to be innovative in making progress on the road to eMobility and initiate new R&D projects (Lache et al., 2008; Deutsche Bank Research, 2009; Rother, 2009). The assessment is widely shared that Germany is ‘at present poorly situated in the particularly important key technologies of automotive batteries and also in the field of vehicle-related power electronics’ (Expertenkommission Forschung und Innovation (Expert Commission on Research and Development)

(EFI), 2010: 13). Until now, research in eMobility as a whole in Germany has been exclusively limited to battery and electronic control systems. Still, German automakers are seen to be lagging behind, particularly in battery technology (Acatech, 2010). Accelerated research is required to increase battery capacity while reducing weight. Additionally, effective recycling of batteries must be achieved in the long term. Finally, cost reductions are expected when less expensive materials are found or can be synthesized to substitute for rare and thus expensive metals. If, how and when electric traction will succeed in becoming the dominant form of propulsion is, however, not only a matter of technology. Additional perspectives, including sociology of science and governance, are needed to assess its potential. These perspectives are useful to highlight the factors such as the evolving scientific disciplines and their hegemonic discourses, the (new) constellation of players or innovation networks, as well as publicly financed research funding. Using Germany as an example, this chapter examines and discusses the prospects of future eMobility, which have to be linked to other forms of transport. The thrust and scope of the objectives articulated in the German state-funded research and other governance arrangements are examined. The objectives and the design of the research programmes depend on the scope of use and application for the technology. Thus, the focus of interest becomes the utilization profiles, which predominately appear to be implicit and represent a usually unquestioned premise for the strategic actions of the various players. Summarizing and interpreting the first empirical results of the user surveys from the pilot trials with electric vehicles (EVs) in Germany, this chapter will reinforce the user perspective in the discussion on governance of innovation in transport. The chapter discusses the prospects for and barriers to sustainable mobility, as well as the possibilities and limits of the German innovation system.