Right around the same time that a New York Times reporter managed to bungle a simple city-to-city electric vehicle test drive along an East Coast charging network, earlier this year a consortium in Europe launched a new three-year, multinational project to take the whole thing to the next level. The new project will be both a showcase for the reliability of Europe’s growing cross-border EV network, and a demonstration that affordable EV ownership is here, now, and happening.
Until now, EV marketers have been focused on the immediate payback of EV ownership, which includes the driving experience, the convenience and the fuel savings. The sustainability attraction also comes into play.
The new project, called the RheinMobil showcase, focuses on a much more down to earth matter, which is the reality of owning a car of any type for about three years. That basically comes down to a bummer in terms of paying out for maintenance as well as fuel.
For a bit of context, consider that the up-front cost of purchasing an EV is still relatively high primarily because EV batteries are still extremely expensive compared to, say, a fuel tank. But on the other hand, an EV drive train is more efficient and typically requires less maintenance compared to an internal combustion system.
That’s why the RheinMobil partners are convinced that EVs will prove to be a better buy over the long run, simply in financial terms aside from all the other goodies.
As an aside, the whole battery cost issue could become a moot point in the future, when advanced EV battery research bears fruit. However, for the here and now the consortium’s head-to-head test promises to demonstrate that EVs are an affordable alternative to liquid fuel vehicles.
Partnering Up for EV Affordability
RheinMobil is actually just one of about 40 projects currently under way in Germany’s Baden-Württemberg “LivingLab BWe mobil” electric mobility showcase, which involves more than 100 public-private partners.
Spearheaded by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the RheinMobil showcase includes two industry leaders, one of which is Michelin. As a longtime global leader in tire technology, it’s not obvious what kind of skin Michelin has in the EV game, but Christian Metzger, who manages Michelin’s plant in Karlsruhe, Germany explains the broader values expressed in the company’s corporate culture:
“Michelin does not only develop and sell tires, but is also committed to viable mobility…If electric mobility is to have a future, we have to bring electric vehicles onto the roads and make them visible.”
The other industry partner is Siemens, which is a pretty obvious choice based on the company’s leadership in alternative energy technology. Though perhaps best known in the U.S. for its advanced wind turbines, Siemens is also heavily invested in the electric highway of the future. Among other projects, it recently partnered with Ford and Duke under a Department of Energy grant to develop advanced EV charging technology.
A Practical Test of EV Affordability
The two companies also have a nuts-and-bolts reason for getting behind the showcase, because their employees commute frequently between facilities in Germany and France.
That brings up one important feature of the showcase. It aims to show that EVs making frequent long-distance trips are just as affordable as their conventional counterparts. That makes EV ownership particularly attractive for companies with large fleets as well as for individual owners with intensive driving habits. For casual drivers with short commutes, though, the savings would not pile up at the same rate.
The demonstration will involve teams of EVs commuting from Karlsruhe to Alsace and Haguenau in France. A startup called e-MotionLine will supply the vehicles, coordinate the charging infrastructure and train the drivers.
To ensure charging network reliability between Germany and France the partners will also coordinate with another project spearheaded by KIT called the CROss-border Mobility for EVs (CROME) project.
Image: EV charging network, courtesy of CROss-border Mobility for EVs
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.