Promoting electromobility is the declared goal of the Berlin Agency for Electromobility, or eMO for short. The agency, which is part of the Berlin-based business development agency Berlin Partner, has acted as a networker for people from various sectors since it was founded in 2010. The aim is to make Berlin a center for sustainable mobility.
Mr. Lobenberg, why do we need an agency for electromobility?
Gernot Lobenberg: We see ourselves as an innovation agency. New innovations – and this includes electromobility – are being established on the market at various speeds. Our aim is to accelerate the process by networking various players from politics, the public sector, business, and science. We provide information, bring the parties involved together, and work to drive the issue forward.
And how do the different players benefit from working with you?
We provide them with a platform to network and also help steer them in the right direction. We give guidance to companies from a wide variety of sectors. We explain to them where they can apply for subsidies and who to contact in the government. In addition, we find partners to promote pilot projects, for example. We also offer regular events such as workshops or lectures. Companies can present their projects and solutions for more sustainable mobility at these events. Furthermore, we advise politicians and government officials.
Politicians are constantly expressing the desire to establish Berlin as a leading center for electromobility. What are Berlin’s prospects in this area?
Public perception is important and what is happening in terms of climate protection and quality of life. This also applies to attracting new companies and to the charging infrastructure. In general, electromobility is still a long way from a real market breakthrough. But the number of providers in Berlin in the fields of electromobility and new mobility services is unprecedented in Germany, if not in Europe.
Since 2011, Gernot Lobenberg has been the head of the Berlin Agency for Electric Mobility - eMO for short. Photo: fotostudio-charlottenburg, hedrich.mattescheckGBR
As a country with a traditional love of cars, Germany is still lagging behind in the expansion of electromobility. Why is that?
There are several reasons. The car in Germany represents not only the promise of personal mobility, but also a narrative for our prosperity. What’s more, a large number of jobs and a great deal of added value depend on the automotive industry. There is always resistance to change when it comes to innovations. Why change if everything is going so well? But we also have examples of global leaders from other sectors, like Nokia or Kodak, that have disappeared from the market today.
Having a strong car industry is actually a good basis for making the necessary investments and becoming a pioneer in the field.
Representatives of the industry and politicians are discussing when the time is right to make the switch to sustainable mobility. Combustion engines deliver solid returns today for car manufacturers – the bigger the car, the more money they earn. From an economic standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to stop selling them for the time being, especially since the profits are also needed to make investments in the future. The cultural shift within companies is just as difficult: It is difficult to get people to realize that things that were once great feats of engineering could be a problem for us tomorrow.
But demand, in other words the consumer, also plays a major role. Why is demand for electric cars still not that strong?
People in Germany identify more strongly with cars with internal combustion engines than elsewhere. After all, it’s a German invention. In addition, there are also larger subsidies in other countries. Norway, France, and the Netherlands are all ahead of Germany in that respect. For example, in Norway, the high vehicle registration tax only applies to vehicles with internal combustion engines. Plus, electric car drivers in Oslo do not pay congestion charges. As you can see, there are real financial disadvantages for owners of cars with combustion engines.
The automotive industry has been hit hard by COVID-19. Now the German government wants to boost demand for electric cars by increasing the premium for buyers of electric vehicles. What opportunities does such a program offer?
There are a few different ways of looking at it. The idea behind a stimulus package is to boost consumption and, in turn, the economy within a relatively short period of time. Recently it was decided that there would be a temporary reduction of the value-added tax on all products until the end of 2020. However, electromobility is primarily about investments to bring about a real cultural change. These do not take place overnight, but rather over the medium to long term. Increasing the innovation premium for electric vehicles is the right step to create incentives to purchase EVs and support efforts to achieve climate goals. However, I believe we must now at long last change our transport policies – not just the type of vehicle propulsion systems we use.
How do you think electromobility will evolve over the next ten years?
Today we are seeing significant growth in the market – and there’s nothing that can stop this. An ever-wider range of electric vehicles is available, and the automotive industry is also bringing more and more models to the market. So the trend is positive. There is certainly some catching up to do is in the area of charging infrastructure, especially for private properties. Around 80 percent of all charging takes place at home or at work. More needs to happen in this area, such as the adoption of new regulations and higher subsidies.
Harald Czycholl conducted the interview.