Showcase project focuses on whether electric vehicles more efficient than conventional vehicles

February 22, 2013, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
Staff members of Michelin and Siemens use electric vehicles for trips from Germany to France and back. The vehicles are supplied by a new company established by KIT graduates. Credit: Sandra Göttisheim

High battery costs still prevent many people from buying an electric vehicle. Is it possible to save money by using an electric vehicle instead of a conventional reference car? This question is studied by the companies of Michelin and Siemens in cooperation with research partners at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI. In January 2013, the consortium was promised funding by the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building, and Urban Development (BMVBS) under the Baden-Württemberg LivingLab BWe mobil showcase project.

"If electric mobility is to be successful in Europe, it has to be economically efficient. We are looking for applications in which electric vehicles are cheaper than a reference car with a combustion engine," says Dr. Olaf Wollersheim, head of the RheinMobil showcase at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). This is where the companies of Michelin and Siemens come in. Their staff members commute frequently between the German and French facilities. So far, conventional vehicles have been used for these trips. However, an electric vehicle may be cheaper, as every kilometer driven electrically costs less than driving on gasoline or . Wollersheim points out that the reason is the much higher efficiency of the electric drive train. "If the vehicle is used often, costs can be reduced considerably and the high purchasing price is compensated."

In a few weeks from now, first electric vehicles will be used by the staff commuting from Alsace to the Michelin factory in Karlsruhe. At the same time, Siemens staff members will use an electric instead of a gasoline-based vehicle for their trips between the factories in Karlsruhe and Haguenau, France. In both cases, utilization of the vehicles is planned to be increased, such that the electric vehicle will be cheaper than the reference car with a at the end of the project. This concept also convinced the federal government. The project scheduled for a duration of three years and having a volume of nearly two million euros will be funded by the BMVBF and the project partners at a ratio of 50:50.

"Michelin does not only develop and sell tires, but is also committed to viable mobility. This is one of the company's principles outlined in the "Performance and Responsibility" Charter. The RheinMobil project fits perfectly to our company culture, as we can combine our values of 'respect for people' and 'promoting innovation'", explains Christian Metzger, the Karlsruhe plant manager of Michelin. "If electric mobility is to have a future, we have to bring electric vehicles onto the roads and make them visible," Metzger says.

"By participating in the project, Siemens does not only want to contribute to environmental protection, we also want to enhance the acceptance of electric mobility among our staff members. For business trips to our factory at Haguenau, Alsace, which is located 70 km away, they can test the electric vehicle in practice," says Hans-Georg Kumpfmüller, spokesman of the Karlsruhe Siemens plant management.

To reach the ambitious project objectives, smart operation strategies for the vehicles, charging stations at the right places, and efforts to convince the staff members of the companies are required. Fraunhofer ISI and KIT have already studied user expectations and commercialization obstacles. They know the factors that prevent people from using , such as high costs, small ranges, and limited availability of charging infrastructure.

"This is where we come in," says Max Nastold, managing director of the company e-MotionLine. This company has just been established by KIT graduates and now received the first order to supply vehicles for the RheinMobil project. "We take care of the selection of economically most efficient vehicles, coordinate the charging infrastructure, and train the users in using this new technology." Max Nastold is convinced that this concept can also be used to open up other economically efficient applications. As regards the use of the charging infrastructure on both sides of the German-French border, the RheinMobil partners cooperate closely with the CROss-border Mobility for EVs (CROME) project ( that is funded by several German and French ministries.

The RheinMobil project is one of about 40 projects in the Baden-Württemberg "LivingLab BWe mobil" electric mobility showcase. It is funded with about 2 million euros by the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building, and Urban Development (BMVBF) under the showcase program of the federal government. In April 2012, the federal government selected four regions in Germany as "electric mobility showcases". In these regions, research and development of alternative drive trains are funded according to the decision made by German parliament. For the showcase project, the federation will provide funds in the total amount of EUR 180 million. In large-scale regional demonstration and pilot projects, electric mobility will be tested at the interface of energy system, vehicle, and traffic system. Further information can be found at

"LivingLab BWe mobil" electric mobility showcase

In the Baden-Württemberg "LivingLab BWe mobil" showcase, more than 100 partners from industry, science, and public institutions are studying electric mobility in practice. The projects concentrate on the region of Stuttgart and the city of Karlsruhe and ensure high international visibility. "LivingLab BWe mobil" stands for a systematic approach based on coordinated projects for everybody to experience electric mobility from the electric bike to the electric car to the electric van to plug-in shuttle buses. The projects address aspects of intermodality, fleets, commercial transport, infrastructure and energy, urban and traffic planning, vehicle technology, communication, and participation as well as training and qualification. "LivingLab BWe mobil" is coordinated by the State Agency for and Fuel Cell Technology e-mobil BW GmbH and the Stuttgart Regional Economic Development Corporation (WRS).

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5 / 5 (1) Feb 22, 2013
However, an electric vehicle may be cheaper, as every kilometer driven electrically costs less than driving on gasoline or diesel fuel.

Is not.

Take for example, the Nissan Leaf battery which is estimated to cost around $15,000 or €11,000 and has a practical range of 100 km. Let's further assume that it has a practical lifetime of 100,000 kilometers before it dies of old age and too many load cycles, and damage from fast recharging.

The average consumption is 24 kWh/100km and the average cost of electricity in Germany is 26 c/kWh. The result is that you pay €6,240 for the electricity, and €17,240 for the 100,000 km of driving, or €17.25/100km.

For a car that consumes 5 L/100km (47 mpg), that is equivalent to gasoline at €3.45 per liter which is well over double what anyone in Europe pays right now.

The reason why I'm counting it that way is that if you take the Nissan Leaf, and subtract the price of the battery, you get the price of a normal affordable economy car.
not rated yet Feb 22, 2013
Although it's a great challenge to drive 100,000 kilometers soon enough so the battery doesn't age significantly, because the range drops by the month as well as by the kilometers driven, and the combination is worse. By the end of it you'll be driving progressively shorter distances as the battery gives in.

So, in order to get 100,000 kilometers within, say, five years, you'd have to drive 20,000 km a year and 55 km every single day, or 75km five days a week.

For the ideal customer of an electric car who doesn't do 55 or 75 kilometers a day, the battery goes old before they have the chance of driving it that far, and the cost per kilometer rises proportionally. More than half the working population in Germany it seems commutes less than 20 kilometers a day, at which distance they'd only manage a third of the total range by year five when the battery starts showing its age.
not rated yet Feb 22, 2013
And the third thing is, that once you're done with the battery and the car doesn't go any longer, you can't get rid of it because any prospective buyer would have to drop down €11,000 for a new battery. Maybe someone will give you €2000, but even that would be dubious since they could buy an entire new car with all that money, or a great second hand one.

Unlike an ordinary car that still has perhaps half of its value left for resale after 100,000 km, the electric car is worthless. Nobody's going to buy it from you, so you paid the full price of an entire car, plus battery, and only got 100,000 km or less out of it.

All this makes electric vehicles massively more expensive to drive.
not rated yet Feb 22, 2013
"All this makes electric vehicles massively more expensive to drive."

Simply put Eikka - you are wrong. You don't have to do all the numbers yourself - there is plenty of information on the web that will show you that the total cost of driving a vehicle like the Leaf is very competitive with similar sized gas cars. Here I did a quick search for you - http://www.afdc.e...ov/calc/

The costs will vary somewhat - depending on your driving needs - this comparison puts a Leaf against a Civic - with daily driving of 60 miles.
not rated yet Feb 23, 2013
maybe one of the above commentators can tell me the price of petrol in 3 or 5 years time. it would help me to make a better comparison. My bet would be in favour of the electric car!
I drive a converted one at less than 20% of the running cost of a petrol car at todays petrol prices! My LiFePO4 battery will be good for over 200 000 km with careful driving.
not rated yet Feb 23, 2013
there is plenty of information on the web that will show you that the total cost of driving a vehicle like the Leaf is very competitive with similar sized gas cars

You've yet to show one that would dispute the calculation.

The Leaf costs something like €32,000 whereas a Volkswagen Golf or a similiar small diesel car can be had at around €22,000 which alone makes the Leaf less economical even if you assume that the resale value after 5-6 years and 100,000km is the same, because the equivalent fuel price of the battery and electricity is over double what you'd pay for the regular car.

Of course you can compare it to american gas guzzlers and american electricity prices, but we're talking about Germany and central Europe here. It just isn't less expensive to drive electric.
not rated yet Feb 23, 2013
this comparison puts a Leaf against a Civic - with daily driving of 60 miles.

You do realize that the Leaf battery won't do 60 miles reliably, especially when it's couple years older and already has 500 recharges under the belt?

The end-of-life range for ev batteries is around 63% of the nominal capacity, and beyond that they start to disintegrate rapidly. The EPA range of the Leaf is 72 miles, 65 miles if you don't want to risk it - and that's when it's new. By the year five, you're most likely doing 45 miles tops, and that's pushing it.
not rated yet Feb 23, 2013
If electric mobility is to be successful in Europe, it has to be economically efficient.

The big red herring here is that they're only comparing new cars, when the average age of a vehicle in europe is 7.5 years. Most vehicles are not new, and most people drive second hand cars.

If you want to drive cheaply, you won't buy an electric car; you'll buy a second hand VW diesel or a Toyota.

If you want to make electric cars a success, the first thing you absolutely need is batteries that last well over a decade in use - up to 20 years if possible - so that the cost of the car could be shared over multiple owners like with regular cars. The second thing is to cut the prices in half. The third thing is to double the range of the basic model at the same price.

5 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2013
Eikka: "You do realize that the Leaf battery won't do 60 miles reliably"

They have made some changes to the 2013 Leaf - the epa mileage will probably be 82 miles. http://www.treehu...ther.htm

Nissan is warrantying the batteries will not go below a 30% drop in the first 5 years. http://www.plugin...920.html This leaves you with a range of 56 miles after 5 years.

So I plugged in a range of 50 miles - and if you try the same thing - you will see the costs are very comparable. My point is to demonstrate that your claim of "All this makes electric vehicles massively more expensive to drive." is just pure ignorant propoganda. 2nd and 3rd generation batteries are close to hitting the market. It is sad to see such ignorance displayed - as the future unfolds to those with a little vision.

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