I'm in the former East Germany reporting on the International Transport Forum, and I've been amazed at all the green transit options touted here, including a serious bid to use bicycles to carry freight. Yes, the age of the cargo bike has arrived.
But the electric car? Not yet, and not here. How bad is it? Consider this from the Detroit News:
“2011 was to have been the Year of the Electric car in Europe, but sales were so slow as to be barely measurable. The combination of severe economic downturn and less than compelling prices and performance means that you can discount a sales surge in 2012. European newsletter Automotive Industry Data (AID) said that despite meaty government subsidies, electric cars managed a market share of 0.09 per cent in Western Europe last year, with France leading the way with 2,630, Germany a close second with 2,154 and socialist Norway third with 2,038. Britain managed four-figure sales with just over 1,000, while Greece in last place failed to trouble the scorers with zero.”
Some 11,563 EVs were sold in Western Europe, with the Mitsubishi MiEV in first place, followed by the Peugeot iON and Citroen C-Zero (I-MiEVs rebranded).
Consider Portugal. According to Sergio Monteiro, a transport minister in Portugal, the government has installed 1,300 charging spots in 25 cities, and also lopped 5,000 euros off the 35,000-euro purchase price of the cars with subsidies. But only 200 electric vehicles have been sold, 60 of them to public officials. It’s the reverse of Field of Dreams, he said — they built it, and they didn’t come.
Monteiro says that electric vehicles are still too expensive, and the government could have done a better job explaining the advantages of the technology. In Denmark, the tax structure so favors electric cars that a Danish EV owner would save 3,380 euros over the life of the car. Electric cars are exempted from ownership tax, vehicle excise duty, countervailing charges and road taxes — enough to cut the price by 60 percent. Denmark also has Better Place, which is fielding a fleet of Fluence Z.E. cars with battery swapping. All that’s true, but the copious subsidies haven’t led to big take-up there, even though 40 percent in polls say they’re interested in buying an EV.
Ireland is also waiting for the electric vehicle revolution to happen. Patrick O’Doherty of the Irish utility ESB said at the Transport Forum that the government had set a challenging mandate of 40 percent renewable energy by 2020, with 10 percent electric vehicles. “We need to be big in vision, moderate in expectations,” he said.
Mitsuhiko Yamashita, a Nissan vice president, has some statistics for the electric Leaf. It’s sold 11,000 in the U.S., 13,000 in Japan and just 3,000 in Europe, a fact Yamashita attributed to a late start selling there. But Yamashita said sales are going great in Norway, a country with an EV tradition through native company Think Global.
And Patrick Oliva, a senior vice president with French tire maker Michelin, said he expects the EV in Europe to remain “relatively experimental” for the rest of the decade, with mass deployment finally happening after 2020. It seems a long time to wait. In the meantime, Europe does have plenty of cargo bikes, like the Ecopostale van pictured above and in use today in Belgium. Pedals, then batteries in Europe, it seems.