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Electromobility: How e-cars made the breakthrough

For a long time, electric cars were only for idealists and technology freaks. But now the breakthrough is on the horizon: Manufacturers are bringing many new models onto the market and people are taking advantage of them thanks to high purchase premiums. But what does this mean for our economy and society, how are they changing? ZEIT ONLINE investigates these questions in the electric car focus "The turn is here". At the beginning we show the boom in graphics.

Five years ago it was not foreseeable that the age of electric cars was imminent in Germany. Less than one percent of newly registered cars in 2016 were electric cars. Since 2017, the proportion of e-cars has increased steadily, albeit slowly - and literally exploded in 2020. More than 13 percent of new registrations had a charging plug last year. A little more than half of them, however, are plug-in hybrids that are also equipped with an internal combustion engine. They can only drive short distances, usually 40 to 60 kilometers, electrically. Classic hybrid cars that cannot be charged with electricity by cable, but that only generate electricity while driving are not counted as electric cars.

How did 2020 become the year of electric cars? Initially, the car manufacturers were very interested in finally selling more cars with charging plugs. Because the EU stipulated CO2 limit values ​​for the manufacturers for 2020, which for most of them could only be achieved if e-cars cut the cut. If the industry had missed the limit values, fines in the billions would have been due. The federal government helped her to prevent this by increasing the purchase premium per e-car from up to 6,000 to up to 9,000 euros. And then there was the temporary three percent sales tax cut, which resulted in savings of several hundred euros on cars in the second half of 2020.

The incentive to buy an electric car also increased because the choice for customers became significantly greater. According to the consulting firm Jato, there were only 13 battery-electric and 18 plug-in models on the German market in 2015; in 2020 there were already 49 battery cars and 79 plug-ins. And there will be many more this year. German manufacturers in particular have hesitated for a long time, but have now understood that they have to switch to stay competitive.

How far you can get with an electric car before it has to be plugged in is the most important question for many interested buyers. Understandable, because once a full charge can take several hours, depending on the car and the charging point, and you don't want to wait that long. In the meantime, a solution for long distances with fast charging stations is beginning to spread, with which, in the best case, you can continue after a good 20 minutes. But that is far from the standard.

You can only rely on the manufacturer's information to a limited extent for the range, the official tests take place under unrealistic conditions. This has improved somewhat with the introduction of the WLTP measurement method - with the result that the average range of battery cars has decreased on paper in the past two years despite technical progress, as a Jato analysis shows. The fear of range is usually unjustified anyway: only a little more than one percent of car journeys are more than 100 kilometers, according to the study Mobility in Germany.

In addition to more powerful batteries, politics and industry are counting on the expansion of public charging stations to counter the fear of range. The government has promised one million charging points by 2030 and hopes that then ten million electric cars will drive through Germany. However, many experts believe that significantly fewer charging points would be sufficient for this number. On the one hand, faster charging processes mean that a charging point can serve more cars per day. On the other hand, a large part of the charging process takes place at home anyway. Many public charging stations are needed, especially in city centers, so that residents of apartment buildings without their own parking space also have enough charging options. And fast charging points are particularly important along the motorways so that you don't have to wait for hours at a rest area.

377500 Requests for the promotion of a private charging station were provided between the end of November 2020 and the end of March 2021.

Funding doesn't stop with the purchase of an e-car. There will be no vehicle tax to be paid until 2030 - and the state is currently also paying for the cost of connecting a shop at home, known as a wallbox. At least if you can prove that you only allow green electricity to flow into the car. The 900 euro subsidy that has been received per charging point since the end of November covers most of the costs for purchase and installation in many cases. E-car drivers are happy to take this with them: Every month around 50,000 to 80,000 applications for the subsidy are made, according to the Federal Ministry of Transport. It turns out that if electric driving has enough advantages, people will switch.