One way or another, Germany of the future will have hushed autobahns traveled by millions of purring electric cars and e-car recharging hubs as ubiquitous as gas stations are today. Yet, of the one million e-cars that Chancellor Merkel insists will be on Germany’s roads in 2022, there are only 5,578 today. Germany’s e-cars are still in the factory. What’s the problem?
The problem is that German carmakers, heavy-hitters like Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler Benz, Audi, and Porsche, would rather sell the hefty luxury models they’ve made their names on – and fortunes with – rather than flyweight, plastic two-seaters run on a suitcase-sized battery. Indeed, Germany’s world-renowned auto industry is posting record profits.
This is why the Scandinavians, as well as Californians, are out in front of Germans on electromobility. This isn’t to say that German carmakers aren’t in their labs working hard to beat out American and Asian competition. But they haven’t expedited the flow of e-cars to Germany’s streets.
There are other reasons for this, too, such as the high costs of current models, the absence of charging stations, and the still imperfect technology of batteries.
As dispiriting as this state of affairs is, there is progress being made elsewhere while the R&D units get it right. Cities in Germany like Munster, Freiburg, Karlsruhe, and Hamburg, as well as their peers to the north in Scandinavia, are well-known “smart” or “green” cities boasting state-of-the-art sustainable urban concepts, including transportation. These metropolitan areas and others have their own carbon targets predating the Energiewende. These green cities take pride in their highly subsidized public transportation, traffic-free downtowns, road pricing, bike lanes and highways, rent-bike programs, car sharing, and other environmentally-friendly endeavors.
Take, for example, the pretty western German city of Munster, near the Dutch border. There, hybrid Mercedes-Benz buses compose part of the city’s fleet. The Munster bicycle station is the largest underground bicycle parking facility in Germany, housing 3,300 (guarded) bicycle stands, as well as a maintenance workshop, a bike wash, a bicycle shop, and even lockers. Munster is considered one of Europe’s easiest cities of its size (280,000) to live in without a car, and for this reason among others was voted the world’s most livable city in 2004.
Or there’s Freiburg, in Germany’s southwesternmost corner, which has converted a former military area into a green, traffic-free suburb. One of the primary goals of the Vauban district was to create environmentally-friendly traffic. In addition to a two mile-long tramline to central Freiburg, the city council created a car-sharing system, 350 miles of bicycle paths in Freiburg and Vauban, and 5,000 bicycle parking spaces.
Will every city in Germany look like Freiburg and Munster in ten years’ time? That’s the idea.