Mobility From The Electrical Outlet

By Michael Cramer MEP, Chairman of the Committee for Transport and Tourism

Energy companies and car manufacturers are now belting on electric cars to shift to towards sustainable mobility. But that is not enough to make our transport more environmental friendly.

The transport sector is responsible for 24% of all CO2 emissions in the EU. The road sector alone accounts for 72% of transport emissions in Europe. Even worse: The emissions from private vehicles and trucks have increased since 1990 by 28%, while they were reduced by 32% in the industry and by 24% in private households in the same period. The transport sector nullifies all savings in other sectors, by investing billions of Euros of our taxpayers. These figures illustrate the need for a radical change in transport policy.

After the false hope in agrofuels, many put their expectations on electric vehicles now, which supposedly allow emission-free driving. But whether the overall environmental balance - including the production of such vehicles - is really better depends on the source of power. Renewable energy would be ideal. But due to the current energy mix of power, it is not available in a sufficient amount.

In France, the hype around the e-car is closely connected to the interests of the nuclear lobby. But it's also visible in other countries: Energy companies and car manufacturers, two lobbies, which benefit from the threat of climate change, are now united in the struggle for E-Cars. Especially for the latter, it is just the simplest solution to change mobility by simply changing the way a car works. And to many consumers the idea seems to be attractive: One only shifts to a new car, rather than reconsidering their own automobile lifestyle. But it is not that simple to change to a more sustainable future of mobility.

Moreover the e-car is also hardly competitive - if only because it costs more than €30,000 compared to one with an internal combustion engine for €20,000. The main drawbacks are the heavy batteries and the limited distances. With 60 liters of diesel a new car has a range of about 800 kilometers. Currently, electric cars can travel at best 200 km with one battery load (that weighs around 150 kilograms)!

Despite many unsolved problems, Germany has pushed for a programme, for one million electric cars on the streets in 2020. Set into the perspective of almost 50 million vehicles in the country, the contribution of these measures will be insufficient, although the subsidies amount to several billion euros. Let us take a look across the borders of Europe: During the last five years, the number of cars has doubled in Asia. In China there are about seven million cars more per year! If the Chinese use the car only half as much as we do, no one will be able to take the car in the future, because there is not enough oil, steel, lithium for the batteries and space on the streets.

Due to its short range, the e-car primarily competes with more sustainable modes of transport, such as busses, trains and bikes. Especially in cities, the car literally is the motor that drives the decrease of the quality of life. Therefore, we do not need new automobile competitors to other short-range vehicles but rather an alternative to space-wasting cars - regardless of the engine.

The emissions are in fact only one of five problems of current car use, which can be solved by a switch to e-cars and their lifecycle has to be improved. Others are noise, which is influenced by the speed, the tyres and road surface, especially in densely populated regions. Third, car traffic is responsible for many accidents that kill 25,000 people per year in the EU. Fourth, the costs: Every car is subsidized €1,600 per year, if the accident and climate costs are included. And this amount is paid for every taxpayer, even if he or she has no car. Fifth, land use: every day more than 100 hectares are covered by asphalt in Germany. The government only wants to reduce it to 30 ha in 2020! Electric cars would not change that a bit.

It is and remains a scandal that environmentally-friendly transport is more expensive in Europe than environmentally-harmful transportation. These problems can only be solved by other modes of e-mobility: E-bikes are booming right now without any subsidies.

To achieve the climate protection targets a fundamental change is needed in the transport sector. The Royal Academy of Sciences in the UK has calculated that electricity demand on the island would rise by 16 percent, if e-cars were introduced on a large scale. To increase the demand of energy is especially problematic - not least in light of the current problems with Russia.

A radical change in transport policy is needed. In cities the transport sector is responsible for 70% of all emissions, which are harmful to the climate. But in some places a change is already happening: London and Stockholm have made the car an unwanted guest in city centers by the introduction of congestion charges. On the other hand bicycle traffic increases everywhere, from Sevilla to Copenhagen. In German cities over 90 percent of all car trips are shorter than 6 kilometers: These are ideal distances to switch to bus, train, e-bike, bicycle and walking. Overall short-and long-distance rail and public transportation like trams are modes of e-mobility, which have already proved their success for a long time and have a renaissance worldwide, in Paris, London and New York. These are the approaches for the future of our mobility that we would like to see on a long run.

Since 2004 Michael Cramer is a Member of the European Parliament (EP), working mainly on EU transport policy. After ten years as transport policy spokesman for the Green group, he was elected chairman of the Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN) in July 2014. Since 1979 he has been mobile without a car.