A new law on electromobility was approved by the German federal cabinet on Wednesday (24 September).
The new measure is expected to come into effect in early 2015 and is set to expire on 30 June 2030.
Its scope covers battery powered vehicles, as well as especially environmentally friendly, externally chargeable hybrid cars, and fuel cell vehicles. For plug-in hybrids, carbon dioxide emissions are capped at 50g per kilometre or a minimum 30km range on purely electric power (40km starting in 2018).
To a large extent, this established minimum range for electric power is enough to cover short day-to-day journeys.
Free parking and access to bus lanes
Under the new law, vehicles approved in Germany are intended to receive special identification via their number plates.
Cars approved outside the country are also expected to be given certain benefits. Because they cannot receive a German number plate, the legislation says they will be identified by a special sticker. This is meant to ensure that electric vehicles can be easily recognised in traffic by police and others on the road.
The law will also give municipalities the possibility to reserve parking spaces at charging stations for electric vehicles as well as provide free parking.
Local authorities can also dole out special access and transit passes (in areas sensitive to air or noise pollution) as well as opening bus lanes for appropriately labeled vehicles, when conditions allow. Final decisions, however, are in the hands of the relevant traffic control authorities.
"With our electromobility law, we are creating additional incentives for electromobility," explained German Transportation Minister Alexander Dobrindt.
"In the future, municipalities will be able to choose how to locally promote the use of electric cars, such as offering free parking or special transit rights. In addition, electric vehicles will be identifiable to anyone at a glance thanks to individual labelling. Because of the growing selection of e-models on the market, and the growing number of e-cars on the roads, sales will continue to rise," Dobrindt said.
Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks added, "With this law we are giving municipalities the possibility to promote electromobility in a way that makes the most sense for their community, from an air quality control perspective for example. Meanwhile we are creating a foundation to better accommodate alternative forms of mobility in urban development."
Auto industry pleased
The auto industry welcomed the new measure. The Automobile Industry Association (VDA) said it expects a boost for electromobility.
"Through individual identification for e-models, these vehicles will be more visible in traffic. Opening up bus lanes and offering free parking areas make driving electric-powered cars more attractive," the VDA's president Matthias Wissmann commented.
"These incentives must be implemented throughout Germany so that they are convincing to [potential] customers, Wissmann said, adding, To do this, it is critical to have an approach that includes coordination among the federal government, regions, cities and municipalities."
Wissmann hopes the law will take effect as soon as possible. "This is a first step in the right direction, which must followed by others", the VDA president emphasised. Research and development projects should be continued just as training and qualification efforts should be promoted, he said.
Germany is well-positioned with regard to electromobility, Wissmann pointed out.
"In no other country do car dealers have such a large selection of electric models. International assessments show: Compared to other countries offering electric cars, Germany's auto industry is at the top of the list," he commented.
By the end of the year, 17 production models made in Germany will be released on the market. 12 more will follow in 2015.
The German Transport Forum (DVF), a multi-modal industry association, also welcomed the fresh legislation.
The DVF's managing director Thomas Hailer said, "Now it is important to get e-vehicles into the fleets of companies and public officials. This has the beneficial side-effect that a market is created, in which used electric cars become available much more cheaply to private users after 2 years."
But to do this, Hailer continued, there must be a procurement initiative at the national, regional and municipal levels as well as a move to introduce special tax write-offs for commercially operated vehicles. And credit programmes with reduced interest-rate loans for purchasing e-vehicles must be implemented quickly."
Stephan Khn, transportation spokesman from the Bundestag's Green Party faction, said Transport Minister Dobrindt does not "to any degree" meet the electromobility challenge.
"He is doing too little and going about it the wrong way. As a priority, he is promoting heavy off-road and sports utility vehicles with German-produced electric motors. This is not the way to reduce fuels that are harmful to the environment. What is needed, is a universal approach for all modes of transportation in concert with an expansion of renewables," Khn said.
The Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) also criticised the new measure.
"Opening access to bus lanes for electric cars and plug-in hybrids attests to the huge lack of knowledge over the real state of mobility in cities," said NABU's national managing director Leif Miller.
"A growing number of cyclists is already forced to share the narrow lane with buses. According to the government's intentions, a Porsche Cayenne with an electric power range of 30 km will be allowed drive in these bus lanes," he pointed out.
In his view, Miller said, he does not see this as contributing to the acceptance of electromobility in cities.
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