“Dare to Innovate”

Author: Michael Specht

Sep 11, 2019 Innovation

Less debating over range, and more courage in innovation – this is how we should be laying the groundworks for a new approach to mobility, according to Prof. Dr. Günther Schuh.

Professor Schuh, what forms of alternative drive do you see as prevailing at the end of the next decade?
There will not be just the one drive that prevails, rather a combination of several. We must invest today in two parallel sets of infrastructure – for both hydrogen fuel and battery technology.
What about so-called ‘designer fuels?’
E-fuels may be able to make a massive contribution to significantly reducing our CO2 emissions. Even in 10 or 20 years’ time, we will still have need for piston engines that burn liquid fuels. Their high energy density will remain a clear and decisive advantage over other fuels. No battery will ever be able to match this. In addition, motorists will be able to continue refueling normally, maintaining their current usage behaviors.
So those battery-powered electric SUVs – weighing almost 2.5 metric tons – are actually the wrong way to approach electromobility?
Electric SUVs do not make economic sense. They physically cannot reconcile battery capacity, range, and driving speed. Future batteries will not be much lighter or much more powerful either. It would be more useful to employ purely battery-electric drives in smaller vehicles, with larger vehicles employing a battery system in conjunction with a fuel cell, a so-called range extender.
What is the most practical way to go about developing hydrogen infrastructure?
Realistically, the industry needs to completely reinvent itself and begin deriving hydrogen in great quantities, and from renewable sources, where possible.
Could this feasibly be done using wind turbines?
As long as there is excess capacity – in other words an imbalance in the grid – wind power may be used to a certain point. However, will this be the case in ten years? If not, we need other solutions.
Are the OEMs doing everything right when it comes to electromobility?
It may be that German OEMs have hesitated for too long, waiting to be convinced of the necessity and market size for electric vehicles. Now they are aggressively investing in e-mobility, with all resources at their disposal. It is now up to us – as customers and consumers – to decide whether we are courageous and innovative enough to change our mobility behaviors. If 25 percent of all cars in Germany never drive more than 150 kilometers per day, I do ask myself why most potential car buyers still cite the insufficient range of modern electric cars as a reason not to purchase.
With your 2015-founded company e.GO Mobile AG, as well as the StreetScooter project, you have sent waves through the electric vehicle market. Does e.GO Mobile AG still count as a start-up?
Yes, in a formal sense, as we have yet to achieve a positive cash flow. But I would prefer not to refer to it as a startup, as many people still see this term as having ‘non-professional’ connotations. The opposite is the case with us. We are currently hiring 40 to 50 new employees per month, with 470 people already working at our production site in Aachen.
Where do you see your business in five years?
We are already laying the foundations to expand production to other countries. In 2020, China will ‘go live.’ Production locations for 2021 and 2022 have already been approved, although I cannot name them yet. For 2023, we are currently in negotiations with a partner. Our requirements always remain the same: we need an investor in-country.
Will you continue with just the e.GO Life city car?
No, within the five years you mention, we will have six vehicles on three platforms in our portfolio. Our production concept and design principles make it possible for us to put a new model on the road within 12 to 15 months.
You currently solely offer electric drives. What will you do to eliminate bottlenecks in the battery cell supply chain?
We work with a number of different suppliers, which minimizes our risk. I would very much welcome it if cell production capabilities could be established here in Europe.
How will you ensure that your CO2 footprint – primarily generated in manufacturing battery cells – is as minimal as possible?
We will do that by keeping our batteries as small as possible. In addition, we are in close contact with our suppliers with the goal of jointly optimizing our production processes to reduce CO2 and increase sustainability.
To what extent should governments be involved with electromobility?
Schuh: An electric small or medium-sized passenger car costs around 6,000 to 8,000 euros more to manufacture than a comparable combustion vehicle. That’s more than twice the production cost. Even with our small-series-optimized space-frame construction, it’s still 3,000 to 4,000 euros per vehicle. If operating costs are not then significantly cheaper, with owners needing to pay for Wallbox-equipped parking garages, and the cost of electricity at public charging stations sometimes exceeding 50 cents per kilowatt hour, many potential customers will find it difficult to justify the switch. The state should make it easier for citizens to switch to e-vehicles through higher environmental incentives and greater support of charging infrastructure. This should see Germany become the leading market for e-vehicles, and help Germany assume the mantle of leading e-vehicle exporter internationally.
Owners of electric cars receive bonuses and pay neither car tax nor taxes for their ‘fuel,’ unlike users of conventional cars. Many feel that this is unfair. How can one compensate here?
That is not how this will work. Combustion engines pollute the environment more, and this is something that needs to be paid for. Now, there are two ways that this burden may be more equitably distributed. One could charge a CO2 tax for combustion vehicles, which, in the short-term, owners would quite rightly consider unfair – as this is a cost that they could not take into consideration when buying their vehicle. The second way is to promote electric cars in a way that their economic disadvantage is somewhat reduced.