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The High Cost of Building Autos
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Europe’s Big Bet on EVs and Hybrids
If you build it, they will come.

That’s the bet behind an ambitious plan to boost the number of electric vehicles and hybrids plying European roads by making electric charging stations nearly as common as gas stations.

The European Union wants to build a half million charging stations by 2020.

”We can finally stop the chicken and the egg discussion on whether infrastructure needs to be there before the large scale roll out of electric vehicles. With our proposed binding targets for charging points using a common plug, electric vehicles are set to hit the road in Europe,” the European commissioner for climate action Connie Hedegaard told the press on Thursday.

While electric vehicle charging stations are clearly the most ambitious part of the plan, the eight-billion-euro “Clean Power for Transport Package” also includes standards for developing hydrogen, biofuel and other natural gas networks.

“Developing innovative and alternative fuels is an obvious way to make Europe’s economy more resource efficient, to reduce our overdependence on oil and develop a transport industry which is ready to respond to the demands of the 21st century,” said European Commission Vice President Siim Kallas.

Four of the European countries with the most ambitious plug-in technology programs — Germany, France, Spain and Britain — have individual national plans that aim to have more than seven million electric cars on their roads by 2020. (Earlier this month Rendezvous reported on a market study that predicted that “natural growth” would mean there will be 7.8 million plug-in cars on the road globally by 2020).

Currently, plug-in vehicles make up a fraction of Europe’s estimated 250 million cars. In 2011, for example, only 1,858 pure electric vehicles were bought in Germany, 1,796 in France, 1,547 in Norway and 1,170 in Britain, according to E.U. figures. However, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids could make up as much as 2 – 8 percent of the total by 2025.

But a lot needs to happen in the next seven years.

For example, Germany had less than 2,000 publicly accessible electric charging stations in 2011, according to E.U. figures. By the end of the decade, the country would have to install another 148,000 public points to reach its target. By way of comparison, the whole country only has roughly 14,300 gas stations (most of which, of course, have multiple pumps).

In the United States, the global leader in the adoption of plug-in technology, there are currently about 5,300 publicly available charging stations, according to a government database.

Even E.U. member states that have virtually no public charging points available will open up to the network. For example, by 2020, the island state of Malta will have 1,000 charging points, according to the plan.

The plan would not only ensure Continental coverage for plug-in vehicles, it would introduce the “Type 2” plug as the standard system in Europe.

Currently, competing systems dominate in neighboring member states. Such infrastructure incompatibility makes it difficult to drive an electric car from Paris to Berlin, relying on public charging points.

But not everyone agrees with Ms. Hedegaard that providing recharging stations is the best way to bring electric vehicles to European roads.

“My basic concern is that the main barrier to electric vehicles isn’t recharging points, it’s the vehicle price. While having more public charging points will certainly help, it’s not in itself going to reduce the vehicle cost,” said Ben Lane, of sustainable transport solutions, a U.K.-based electric vehicle consultancy that also runs the Next Green Car Web site.

Noting that a vast majority of electric car or plug-in hybrid drivers avail themselves of private charging points, either at home or at work, Mr. Lane suggested that the funds would be more effectively spent by subsidizing the high cost of purchasing electric cars.

“Registration incentives for electric vehicles, such as currently operate in France, is one of the most effective ways to shift the market from conventional to electric drive trains,” he said in a telephone interview.
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