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E-mobility grows out of cooperation

Aug 14, 2018

Electric cars are a key component of a sustainable mobility strategy: they follow a new industrial logic both in production and in value creation. Under pressure from climate targets, which can only be met with a higher proportion of electromobility, it is something that German manufacturers are starting to focus on – and they are forming unusual alliances.

Electric car while charging
Electric cars are still a rare sight on the roads, but the number of new registrations is increasing all over the world (photo: Shutterstock)

Electric cars are still a rare sight on German roads. But the number of new registrations is increasing: in the first half of 2018, passenger cars with purely electric drive systems rose by two thirds compared to the previous year from 9,821 to 17,234 vehicles. Battery-powered vehicles were also purchased significantly more frequently in China and the USA. However, given these figures, we can hardly say that this is now the mainstream. ‘There is a rather low volume of electric cars on German roads. The big business undertaken by manufacturers is still with combustion engines’, says Kurt Sigl, President of the Bundesverbands eMobilität (BEM).

Electric cars for short distances

According to Sigl, electric cars can be useful alternatives, especially in commuter traffic or as a second car. In order to convince drivers of this, however, the price-performance ratio must also be good. The start-up company e.GO, for example, is working on this and is offering a battery-powered small car for around 16,000 Euro. The “Life” model was developed by a team led by Günther Schuh, Professor of Production Systematics at RWTH Aachen University. What began as a campus tinkering with an electric street scooter has since led to the industrial series production of electric vehicles for short-distance use.

The battery is the new heart

In the area of e-mobility, new players such as e.GO have easier market access. ‘Since the value chain of vehicles is changing at a fundamental level, some manufacturers are losing their competence-related monopoly’, confirms Sigl. In the future, carmakers will benefit neither from many years of expertise in all production steps nor from a reputation rich in tradition. Existing parts and expertise will be used and upgraded with innovative networking and drive technologies. The battery cell will become the heart of the mobility of the future. According to BEM, around a quarter of automotive value creation lies in batteries alone. The cells that make up the lithium ion batteries are imported and Asia is the main source: battery technology from the Far East drives nine out of ten electric cars. Start-ups specialising in electromobility can count on financial and political support in China, for example.

BMW cooperates with China

To meet the increasing demand for battery cells, German companies must rely on international cooperation. ‘Here in Germany, we have companies that have great expertise in the manufacture of battery cells and can certainly benefit from the exchange and cooperation with Chinese partners’, says Sigl. Chinese manufacturers also want to exploit the market potential in Germany. The Chinese battery giant CATL relies on local proximity to its customers and is building a battery cell factory in Thuringia. This is entirely in line with the ethos of its first major customer BMW. The car manufacturer not only announced that it would purchase battery cells worth 1.5 billion Euro, but also assisted in equipping the CATL plant. Together instead of against each other is a motto that the BEM also supports. ‘China’s strong position in the battery market is in principle not problematic. The only important thing is that Germany is involved in the production and further development of technology products’, says Sigl. Personal contacts and a partnership-based network can drive the mobility of the future.

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