Merkel: Germany must work harder to produce marketable electric vehicles

Merkel and executives from the country’s automakers and energy companies launched a plan Monday to put 1 million electric cars on the roads by 2020

Germany must work harder to produce marketable electric vehicles, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday, at the launch of a major new public-private partnership to promote the electric cars.

Merkel, who has set a goal of 1 million electric cars on German roads by 2020, is leading an attempt to accelerate German research and development into the industry.

"The competition with other countries around the world must now be taken up, stronger than ever," she said at an industry summit in Berlin.

The National Electric Mobility Platform creates seven working groups for technological cooperation between industry and government, which is due to present an interim report by the end of 2010.

"The automobile industry will be investing a likely 20 billion euros (26 billion dollars) per year in research and development over the next several years, a significant portion of which will be into electric mobility, fuel efficient vehicles and other energy-saving measures," a summit communique said.

"We will be dealing intensively with all of the technological, energy and industrial questions in order to make the electric mobility sector and the German auto sector ready for the future," Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle said.

The earliest introduction of electric vehicles for mass production by German manufacturers – including BMW, Volkswagen and Daimler – is expected to be around 2013, whereas Japan’s Nissan and other car manufacturers are bringing electric models on to the market by late 2010.

"We still have no fully developed and price-competitive mass production vehicle available," Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper.

Meanwhile the chiefs of Daimler and BMW on Monday rejected charges that the German car industry has been slow to adapt to the development of electric cars.

Arguing for more state funding for the development of the electric vehicle sector, BMW head Norbert Reithofer said on ZDF television that "it could under no circumstances be said that the car companies have let the development of alternative engines slide."

The government has, however, so far ruled out direct subventions for buyers of electric cars. Discussion of government incentives will centre around measures such as free parking in inner cities for electric vehicles and the possibility of such cars using bus lanes. Other questions will focus on how to bring electric vehicles within reach of ordinary consumers.

The German government has already given development funding to some 190 electric mobility projects, mostly in the private sector, totalling more than 100 million euros.