Electric vehicles divide opinion as car-loving Germany goes to the polls | German Federal Election 2021

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Tsecond Steve Dumke sees a gap in the traffic on the Eggersdorf to Strausberg road, his white Hyundai Ioniq tilts forward and nestles between two fast Volkswagens in the right lane. “One press on the accelerator and the gap is mine,” he yells with joy.

Dumke, a 37-year-old former chef, is less of a speed freak than, in his own words, “an automotive eroticist.” “I like cars with the curves and rumble of an eight-cylinder piston engine,” he says. But for the past four years, the vehicle he wanted has been running in megawatts rather than liters.

After swapping out an old gasoline-powered Opel Signum for his first electric vehicle in 2017, he found himself having to defend his purchase from skeptical friends and family, who joked that he would spend more than time to recharge the ports than to transport his young family.

To prove them wrong, Dumke recorded his daily commute and uploaded it to a Youtube channel which became a full-time occupation when restaurants closed during the pandemic. Last February, he co-founded Berlin-Brandenburg Electric, an association for electric vehicle enthusiasts that organizes car shows, rallies and culinary activities. Saus and Schmaus (“Drive and dine”) trips outside the German capital.

“The electric car won’t save the world, but it can compensate for one of the negative aspects of driving and allow us to have fun along the way,” he says.

Enthusiastic early adopters like Dumke are key to the economic future of Europe’s leading car-producing country. But in a German election campaign that has presented the future of the automobile as a showdown between speed buffs and green fanatics on cargo bikes, their voices are rarely heard.

As the country heads to the polls on September 26, all the major parties on the ballot except the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) say they are determined that Germany reach net zero within 14 to 29 years and curb combustion. engine emissions accordingly.

Steve Dumke: “The electric car won’t save the world, but it can compensate for one of the negative aspects of driving. Photograph: Nicole Krueger / The Guardian

The promise – and some say it is fiction – that these parties offer voters is that such a historic change can be achieved without risking the status of a world leader in the German auto industry. “Our big challenge is to remain an automotive nation that succeeds in making electric vehicles instead,” said Olaf Scholz, the race leader, in a recent interview.

The outgoing government says that existing subsidy programs will be enough for Germany to meet its green targets, providing 14 m electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles to populate its roads by 2030. The Greens and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) are even more ambitious, with 1 million additional vehicles.

But the question is whether the enthusiasm required for a pivot to electric vehicles can be mustered in a country as romantically attached to an ancient automotive culture as Germany.

“Whether it’s Italy, Great Britain or Germany, many European countries believe they have a unique love affair with automotive culture,” said Giulio Mattioli, transport researcher at the University. Dortmund technique. “But I don’t know of any other country where so much national pride is invested in the combustion engine.”

An opinion piece in the mainstream tabloid Bild this month mourned the days when politicians used to “lovingly stroke car parts” for photo ops, complaining that “this year , we are witnessing an election campaign against the car and the people who depend on four wheels. ”.

The Free Democratic Party (FDP), likely kingmaker in the next German coalition government, accused climate activists of waging an ideologically motivated “cultural war on the car”, while the AfD has testified that its political rivals have a “hatred” for the German automobile. industry, claiming that “your car would vote for the AfD”.

Such debates have come to be reflected in consumer behavior. To February 2021 survey in 22 countries found that skepticism about the viability of electric driving was highest in Germany, where 58% of those polled said their next vehicle “probably wouldn’t” be electric. In terms of adoption, Germany is behind Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, said Gracia Brückmann, transport researcher at ETH Zurich. “Germany is in the middle of the table at best.” Alone 1.5% of the current fleet on its roads is fully or partially electric.

Economic concerns were always likely to give rise to hesitation in a country whose collective memory still links the “economic miracle” of the 1950s to the prowess of automakers such as Volkswagen and BMW.

About a fiftieth worker in Germany is directly employed in the automotive industry. Some economic forecasters fear that the switch to electric will not only lead to the redundancy of traditional auto mechanics, but also hit midsize suppliers.

When Steve Dumke joined other members of Berlin-Brandenburg Electric at a hotel on Lake Strausberg, it was a Tesla Model Y and an electric Ford Mustang that tempted EV enthusiasts to take a ride. Out of 15 vehicles lined up in the parking lot, only two were German brands.

Fans discover an electric car
Fans discover an electric car. Photograph: Nicole Krueger / The Guardian

Yet even in Germany, the situation is changing rapidly. Purchasing incentives linked to last year’s pandemic stimulus package led to an increase in pure electric car registrations of more than 300% year on year, and in July, electric cars on German roads crossed the 1-meter threshold, missing the 12-year target by just a few months.

“Germany’s chances of becoming a champion in electric mobility are not perfect, but they are still quite good,” said Patrick Plötz., transport economist at the Fraunhofer Institute in Karlsruhe. “The big manufacturers have finally measured the stakes.

Yet to fully win over car enthusiasts nationwide, politicians and business leaders may need to listen more carefully to early adopters like Steve Dumke.

Aside from high retail prices, the biggest hurdle that kept regular drivers from going electric was the fear of getting stuck between A and B, the chef-turned-YouTuber said.

“When someone like Olaf Scholz says we need to have a fast charging station at every gas station, you can tell him how rarely he uses the electric car he’s supposed to have in his garage,” says Dumke. , who lives in a fourth rented apartment. floor and cannot charge his car at home.

“What we need are much more normal, slow but inexpensive charging points in areas where people actually live. Steht er, dann lädt er, that must be the motto: when you park, you charge.

On the weekend Germany goes to the polls, his club will field a team in E-Cannonball, a 70-car rally from Berlin to Munich hosted by Ove Kröger, a former drag racer. Those who cross the finish line first won’t automatically be winners, he explains, perhaps surprisingly in the only country in the Western world that does not have a maximum speed limit on the motorway.

Instead, the trophy will be awarded to those who complete the journey with the fewest charge stops. All types of electric vehicles are allowed: to level the playing field, cars with more powerful batteries must have 50% power at the start and finish lines.

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


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