Wednesday, October 27

Electric cars enter the campaign in the German elections

The moment Steve Dumke spots a gap between the cars on the route from Eggersdorf to Strausberg, his white Hyundai Ioniq overtakes and slides into the right lane between two speedy Volkswagens. “Just by pressing the accelerator, the hole is mine,” he says happily.

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Dumke, a former chef The 37-year-old is, in his own words, rather than a speed freak, “a vehicle eroticizer.” “I love curvy cars and the roar of an eight-cylinder engine,” he says. But for four years now, the object of his automotive desire has been powered by megawatts instead of liters.

After trading in his gas-guzzling Opel Signum for his first electric vehicle in 2017, he found himself defending that purchase to skeptical friends and family, joking about how he would spend more time at charging stations than transporting his young family.

To prove them wrong, Dumke recorded his daily tours and uploaded them to a Youtube channel, which became his full-time occupation when restaurants closed during the pandemic. In February, he founded Berlin-Brandenburg Electric, an association of electric vehicle enthusiasts that organizes exhibitions, races and trips “Saus und Schmaus(culinary events seeking to draw attention to the need for infrastructure for electric cars) from the German capital.

“Electric cars won’t save the world, but they can offset one of the downsides of driving and allow us to have a lot of fun in the meantime,” he says.

Electoral promises

Pioneering users like Dumke are key pieces for the economic future of the country that produces the most vehicles in Europe. But amid an election campaign that has presented the future of cars as a showdown between gas and speed fanatics and e-bike advocates of green energy, their voices are barely heard.

When the country goes to vote this Sunday, all parties except the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) say they are committed to Germany reaching carbon neutrality by 2040, and reducing the share corresponding to combustion engines .

The promise – some call fiction – these parties make to their voters is that this historic shift can be achieved without jeopardizing Germany’s place in the auto sector. “Our biggest challenge is to continue to be a car-producing country that becomes successful in the production of electric vehicles,” Olaf Scholz, a favorite in the electoral race, said in a recent interview.

The outgoing government maintains that the subsidy schemes will suffice to meet its ecological objectives, with a projection of 14 million electric and hybrid vehicles on the streets by 2030. The Greens and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) are even more ambitious, adding another million to that account.

National proud

But the question is whether they will generate the enthusiasm necessary to push the use of electric vehicles in a country so romantically attached to the car culture of yesteryear.

“Whether it’s Italy, Britain or Germany, many European countries believe they have a unique romance with automotive culture,” says Giulio Mattioli, a researcher at the Technical University of Dortmund specializing in transportation. “But I don’t know of anyone else who has such national pride in the combustion engine.”

An opinion column this month in the popular tabloid Bild He said he longed for past times, when politicians “lovingly caressed cars” for their election posters, and complained that this year there is “an electoral campaign against vehicles and people who need to move on four wheels.”

The Free Democratic Party (FDP), which is likely to be a linchpin in Germany’s next ruling coalition, has accused climate activists of waging a “culture war against cars” on ideological grounds. The far right of the AfD claims that its political opponents have “hatred” for the German automobile industry. “Your car would vote AfD,” says the party.

Economic impact

Those debates have been reflected in consumer behavior.

A February 2021 survey in 22 countries showed skepticism about electric cars to be the highest, with 58% of respondents saying their next car “probably wouldn’t be” electric. In terms of adoption, Germany lags behind Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, according to Gracia Brückmann, who researches transport at the Federal Polytechnic School of Zurich. “Germany is in the middle of the table, at best.” Only the 1.5% of your current car fleet it is totally or partially electric.

Economic concerns were likely to raise doubts in a country whose collective memory still links the “economic miracle” of the 1950s to the exploits of automakers like Volkswagen and BMW.

About one in 50 workers in Germany is directly employed in the sector. Some economic consultants fear that the switch to electrical infrastructure will not only imply the unemployment of traditional mechanics, but also affect medium-scale providers.

When Steve Dumke met other members of Berlin-Brandenburg Electric at a lakeside hotel in Strausberg, the cars chosen by electric vehicle enthusiasts for a ride were a Tesla and an electric Ford Mustang, both American brands. Of the 15 cars parked, only two were of national brands.

But the situation is changing rapidly, even in Germany. Incentives for purchases linked to the pandemic fiscal stimulus package pushed in 2020 an increase from the previous year of more than 300% in registrations of purely electric cars. The number of electric cars on German streets surpassed a million in July, just a month later than estimated by a projection 12 years ago.

“The chances of Germany becoming a champion of electric mobility are quite good,” says Patrick Plöt, a transport economist at the Fraunhofer Institute in Karlsruhe. “The big producers have finally understood what is at stake.”

Use your head

But to fully conquer the country’s car lovers, politicians and businessmen must listen more carefully to pioneering users like Steve Dumke. In addition to high prices, the biggest obstacle that has kept common drivers from switching to electric vehicles has been the fear of being stranded between point A and point B, according to the former chef-turned-youtuber.

“When someone like Olaf Scholz says we need fast charging points at every gas station, you realize how little he uses the electric car he supposedly has in his garage,” says Dumke, who lives in a fourth-floor rental apartment. and you can’t charge your car at home.

“What we need are many more normal, slow but cheap charging stations in the areas where people live. The watchword should be: when it is parked, it is charging.”

On the weekend, when Germany goes to vote, his club will have a team in the E-Cannonball, a race between Berlin and Munich that has been held for 70 years, organized by Ove Kröger, a former racing driver. Those who cross the finish line first will not automatically be the winners, he explains, a possible surprise in the only country in the Western world without a maximum speed limit on its highways.

Instead, the trophy will be awarded to those who complete the course with the fewest recharge stops. All types of electric vehicles are allowed: to equalize the conditions, cars with more powerful batteries must be 50% charged on the start and finish lines.

“Use your head, not your foot on the gas, that’s the message,” says Kröger.

Translated by Ignacio Rial-Schies