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Who still wants a car?

Illustration to “Who still wants a car?”
Illustration to “Who still wants a car?” | Illustration (detail): © Gilles & Cecilie / 2 Agents

Just a few years ago, I still thought electric cars were only for the really rich. I figured the three big problems with e-cars – their high price, short range and the lack of charging infrastructure – would soon make this type of mobility unappealing. Electric cars still aren’t suitable for the mass market. They are, however, appealing to the affluent because of the prestige of the Tesla brand – thanks in part to its charismatic founder Elon Musk. 

By Aya Jaff

A Tesla Model 3 only costs as much as a BMW 3 Series, and the daily lease rate for a Renault ZOE, a small electric car, is only about the cost of a meal for two at a restaurant. The price-performance ratio for electric vehicles has markedly improved in recent years. And their purchase price is approaching that of cars with petrol and diesel engines.

These current e-car prices are, of course, made possible by state subsidies for electromobility. The manufacturers also offer sizeable discounts – in some cases over 40 per cent. The reason they do so is that by increasing their electric vehicle quota, they can reduce the overall carbon emissions of their fleets so as to comply with stricter EU emission standards.

As electric cars catch on and sales increase, production costs will continue to fall – and subsidies will eventually become superfluous. So it’ll soon be cheaper to own a plug-in hybrid vehicle than an internal combustion engine car. Just a few years ago, experts expected that point to be reached in 2025. But the technology is advancing faster than expected. Hui Zhang, managing director of the German office of the Chinese e-car manufacturer NIO, now expects that to happen by 2023.

But does my generation, Generation Z, still need or even want a car at all? Of course the car is still an important means of locomotion and transport, but it is becoming just one of a steadily growing number of alternatives at our disposal. It’s particularly important for many of my generation to be able to combine various options and switch from one means of transport to another as smoothly and hassle-free as possible. So I wonder whether we “Gen Z” motorists are prepared to accept the inconvenience of short ranges and long charging times.

The big automakers are going to have to take on this challenge. Sono Motors, a new start-up in Munich, are showing us how the future of motor vehicle transport might look. They’re planning to launch their Sion minivan in a few months. “We want electromobility not only for the upper class, but for everyone – affordable and suitable for everyday use,” explains the start-up’s co-founder and CEO Laurin Hahn in an interview with Berlin Valley magazine. How? With the aid of integrated solar panels capable of charging the vehicles autonomously. And drivers can use a special smartphone app not only to offer rides, but also to turn their vehicles into mobile charging stations for electric devices and other e-vehicles (power-sharing). So these cars won’t be dependent on charging stations anymore.

While the big automakers’ success is gauged in terms of sales, the Sono Motors business model is based on maximizing utilization. When owners don’t need their wheels, e.g. whilst at the office, they can hire their cars out to others using the same app. That way they earn some money, the cars get used to capacity and car renters can do without a vehicle of their own.

In the light of the Munich start-up’s successful crowdfunding campaign, its strategy looks to be on the right track. This fledgling company has already raised over EUR 50 million: the next generation of customers clearly believe in the concept. Though whether that success will last and prove sustainable will depend on how satisfied drivers ultimately are with a car that can't go any faster than 140 km per hour and whose humble exterior is not particularly stylish. In Germany, a nation of motorists, these are still pretty important criteria when it comes to buying a car.