Photo: Elena Perova/Istockphoto
20.07.2020 | 5 minutes

“Don’t Miss the Boat”

As head of the Berlin agency for electromobility eMO, Gernot Lobenberg is strongly involved in the development of sustainable mobility. He calls for greater backing of charging infrastructure located on private property.

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 its foundation in 2010. Berlin, as the capital of Germany, is to become a center for sustainable mobility.

Mr. Lobenberg, why do we need an agency for electromobility?

Gernot Lobenberg: We see ourselves as an innovation agency. Innovations – and electromobility is one – are being established on the market at various speeds. Our aim is to accelerate the process by networking various players from politics, public administrations, business, and science. We provide information, bring the parties involved together, and try to drive the issue forward.

And how do the different players benefit from working with you?

We provide them with a type of platform to network and we also help steer them onto the right path. We give guidance to companies from a wide variety of sectors. We explain to them where they can apply for subsidies and who are the right people to contact in the administrations. In addition, we find partners to promote pilot projects, for example. Regular events such as workshops or lectures are also part of our offer. Companies can present their projects and solutions for more sustainable mobility at these events. Furthermore, we advise politicians and administrators.

Politicians are always expressing the desire to establish Berlin as a leading center for electromobility. What are Berlin’s prospects in this area?

Public perception is important as well as what is actually 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 breadth of providers in Berlin in the fields of electromobility and new mobility services is already unique in Germany, if not in Europe.

Foto: fotostudio-charlottenburg, hedrich.mattescheckGBR

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 is not only a guarantee of individual mobility, but also a narrative for our prosperity. What’s more, a tremendous number of jobs and a great deal of added value depend on the automotive industry. There is always resistance to a change of direction when it comes to innovations. Why change if everything is going so well? But we also have examples of world market leaders from other industries, like Nokia or Kodak, that have disappeared from the market today.

A strong car industry is actually a good prerequisite for making the necessary investments and becoming a pioneer.

Representatives of the industry and politicians are discussing when the right time has come to make the switch to sustainable mobility. Combustion engines deliver good returns today – the bigger the car, the more money is earned. From an economic standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to get rid of them for the time being, especially since the profits are also needed to make investments in the future. The cultural change within companies is just as difficult: It is simply difficult to have people realize that things that were once brilliant feats of engineering could be a problem for us tomorrow.

But demand, in other words the consumer, also plays a major role. Why is it that the electric car is not yet in such high demand?

People in Germany identify more strongly with cars with combustion engines than elsewhere. After all, it’s a German invention. In addition, there are also greater subsidies in other countries. Norway, France, and the Netherlands are further along than Germany. For example, in Norway, the high vehicle registration tax only applies to vehicles with combustion engines. Plus, electric car drivers in Oslo do not pay the fees at tolled entrances. Therefore there are tangible 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 the demand for electric cars by increasing the premium for buyers of electric vehicles. What opportunities does such an instrument offer?

There are a few nuances to looking at it. The idea of a stimulus package is to boost consumption and in turn, the economy within a relatively short period of time. Recently it was decided that a temporary reduction of the value added tax on all products would be in effect until the end of 2020. However, electromobility is primarily about investments for a real cultural change, and these do not take effect overnight, but rather in the medium to long term. Increasing the innovation premium for electric vehicles is the right step to create purchase incentives and support the achievement of climate goals. However, I believe we must now achieve a change in transport finally – and not just a mere change in the type of drive.

How do you think electromobility will develop over the next ten years?

Today we are in a clear and irreversible market upturn. There is an even wider range of electric vehicles available, and the automotive industry is also bringing more and more models to the market. So the development is positive. There is certainly some catching up to do is in the area of charging infrastructure, especially on private property. Around 80 percent of all charging processes takes place at home or at work. More needs to happen in this area, such as the implementation of new regulations and increased subsidies.

Harald Czycholl conducted the interview.

charging infrastructure