Basic Knowledge Electromobility: Definition, Vehicles and Future

From Gerald Scheffels

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Electric mobility put simply: What are its advantages and disadvantages, what are the laws the govern it and how do drive and energy storage systems work? All the basics at a glance!

Electromobility is one of the megatopics in the automotive industry. Some of the car manufacturers have now announced major product offensives.
Electromobility is one of the megatopics in the automotive industry. Some of the car manufacturers have now announced major product offensives.
(Source: Volkswagen-AG)

Electromobility is defined as the use of electric vehicles 1. Originally this referred to all types of vehicles (from bicycles to high-speed trains). This article only describes electromobility in the field of the automotive industry, but also includes the charging infrastructure.

History of Electromobility: Who Invented the Electric Car?

In the early days of automotive history, around 1900, there were more electric cars in the USA than with combustion engines. Only inventions such as the starter motor made the combustion engine ready for series production. In the decades that followed, the electric motor was only playing a niche role. In the 1970s, for example, milk floats were in great demand in Great Britain: Small vans that delivered the milk silently in the morning.


“Modern" electromobility was launched in 1997 with the Toyota Prius. In the meantime Toyota manufactures the Prius in its fourth generation (also as a plug-in hybrid that can be charged on the power grid) and has produced a total of more than eleven million vehicles of this type.

Electromobility: What Types of Drives Are There?

  • Hybrid (HEV) — Combination of combustion engine and electric motor
  • Mild Hybrid — Hybrid with electric motor of limited power, which supports the internal combustion engine (similar to a turbocharger)
  • Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) — Hybrid vehicle with charging ability via the power grid
  • Electric car with Range Extender (REX) - Additional combustion engine in an electric car that does not drive the vehicle but charges the battery via a generator
  • Battery (BEV) — "pure" electric vehicles without internal combustion engine. Power supply via battery, charging via charging station
  • Fuel cell — electric vehicles with fuel cell. By using electrolysis of hydrogen and oxygen, this technology provides electrical energy for the drive and the battery

The main disadvantage of BEVs is their limited range. A combination with a combustion engine (HEV, BEV + REX) increases the range, but also the complexity of the powertrain and the weight (and price) of the vehicle considerably.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Electric Mobility

One of the advantages is locally emission-free driving, although this fact already implies a disadvantage. The extent to which emissions are actually reduced in the overall balance depends on the energy mix. However, the energy required for vehicle production must also be taken into account. According to a study conducted by the Swedish Energy Agency, the life cycle assessment of an electric vehicle is more favorable after 30,000 km (small vehicle) to 100,000 km (large vehicle) than that of a "combustion engine" of the same size. An ecologically critical factor is also the demand for rare mineral resources (for example Lithium) for battery production.

If the electric cars were powered by regenerative electricity, the balance would be excellent. Currently, the generation of one kilowatt hour of electricity in the German electricity mix produces an average of 530 grams of CO2.

A clear disadvantage is (still) their limited range and the incomplete charging infrastructure, especially of fast charging stations on long-distance routes. The pleasant driving experience (low-noise, high torque right from the start) is regarded as an advantage.

From the point of view of vehicle development, it is positive that the lack of a combustion engine and mechanical drive train allows completely new freedom in construction and design. For the economy and the labor market, electromobility could result in job losses in the automotive industry (including suppliers) because an electric drive is much less complex and requires fewer components than a combustion engine. For example, Volkswagen reported that 7,000 jobs in the Hanover and Emden plants had become obsolete as a result of their electric offensive. However, the company apparently wants to offer alternatives to employees who do not leave voluntarily or due to their age.

Electromobility in Germany and Worldwide: Current Market Data

In Germany, between 100,000 and 120,000 electric cars are currently registered (as of December 2018). This corresponds to a share of around 1.9 % (based on new registrations). The goal set by the federal government — one million electric vehicles in Germany by 2020 - will therefore not be realized. But the share of e-cars is now growing and there is a strongly growing supply of new vehicles. In 2018, the German Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) registered 36,062 pure electric cars, representing a significantly higher number of new registrations than a year ago (25,056).

In the USA, the benchmark of one million electric vehicles was reached in December 2018. There, the share of new registrations is 1.8 % (based on the first three quarters of 2018) 2. Around 1.2 million electric cars are currently on the roads in China (3.5 % of new registrations), and more than three million worldwide. The highest proportion of new registrations of electric vehicles is in Norway (46.7 %), followed by the Netherlands with 4.7 %.

The best-selling electric vehicle on the German market in the period from January to July 2018 was the Renault Zoe, with 3,011 units, followed by VW Golf-E, Smart Fortwo EQ, Kia Soul and BMW 3i.

Keyword: market outlook: By the year 2030, it is to be expected that sales of passenger cars with combustion engines will decline sharply. In 2035, for the first time worldwide, more cars with electric drives than with combustion engines are likely to be sold 3. However, since total car sales will rise sharply by then (by 57 % to more than 116 million vehicles in 2030), a considerable number of cars with combustion engines will probably still be produced.

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Political framework conditions are also a driver of e-mobility: This is another reason why car manufacturers have an interest in selling electric vehicles in order to keep fleet consumption low and to avoid fines (from 2021) that become due if specified values are exceeded. In addition, driving bans for vehicles with diesel engines are being considered in numerous metropolises - for example in London, Mexico City and Paris. Electric drives (including hybrid technology) in these cities can make it possible to travel the "last few miles" to their destination in the city. In addition electrically operated miniature vehicles like electric pedal scooter, Hoverboards or other micromobiles are an alternative, since the legislation now also creates the framework conditions for this future in Germany.

The Electric Mobility Act in a Nutshell

The Law on the Priority Use of Electrically Operated Vehicles, the Electric Mobility Act, or EmoG for short, has been in force since June 2015. Its objective: To enable measures to give priority to e-vehicles in road transport in order to promote environmentally friendly private transport.

Further information on the Electromobility Act is provided by the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection.

E-Cars: State of the Art Drive and Energy Storage Technology

The traction motors used in electric vehicles are mainly three-phase synchronous motors. The gearboxes are much simpler and usually two-stage (plus reverse gear). Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries have established themselves as the state of the art in energy storage.

Future outlook — New battery technologies: For decades there was hardly any serious battery research (electrochemistry), at least in Europe. They're catching up now. A "hotspot" is located, for example, at the University of Münster: At the MEET Institute around 140 researchers are working on battery technologies of the future - with a focus on automotive applications 4. The main objectives of battery development are to reduce costs and increase range.

In addition to the enhancement of lithium-ion technology, battery researchers worldwide are also working on making new types of battery systems ready for series production. These include lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) technology and - to an even greater extent - solid state batteries, in which both electrodes and the electrolyte are made of solid materials. This enables a higher energy density. Several car manufacturers have announced that they will use solid state batteries in their electric cars from around 2025 onwards 5. Volkswagen invests $ 100 million, for example into a start-up company researching solid state batteries.

Battery production: Some car manufacturers have set up their own battery system production facilities in which cells are assembled into ready-to-install complete batteries. The battery cells as the heart of the energy storage system are supplied by a few, mostly Asian manufacturers.

Whether German or European car manufacturers (alone or in a group) need their own cell production is currently the subject of intense debate in industry and politics. The reason for this is that batteries account for a considerable part of the added value of an electric vehicle. The question of security of supply also plays a role in this discussion. There are also discussions as to which battery technology will be favored. Much speaks in favor of solid state batteries.

The Federal Ministry of Economics has made available a start-up budget of one billion euros in order to build up national battery production and, among other things, to compensate for the negative effects of electric mobility on the labor market.

What Charging Systems Are Available for Electric Cars?

Three or four connector systems are currently the standard on the market. In Europe, the "Type 2" plug and the CCS plug (Combined Charging System) with fast charging function dominate. The CHAdeMO connector is used in Japan. Tesla relies on its own connector system for its "superchargers".

Charging columns - from the wallbox for the garage to the high-power charging system - are offered by various manufacturers. Charging systems with an output of up to 320 or 350 kW (ADS-Tec and ABB) are currently technically feasible. They allow the "refueling" of energy for 200 kilometers within eight minutes.

Some electric vehicles, such as the BMW 530e with plug-in hybrid, offer the option of wireless inductive charging. In this case, however, the charging performance is limited. In the future, inductive charging systems are also conceivable (and are already being tested), which are integrated into the roadway and charge the batteries of electric cars while driving.

What About the Charging Infrastructure in Germany?

The acceptance of electromobility depends on the range of a battery charge and - especially for long-distance journeys - on the availability of charging stations and the speed of the charging process.

By 2020, around 15,000 charging stations should be available in Germany, around 5,000 of them with a charging capacity of more than 50 kilowatts. These rapid charging systems ("High Power Charging") are to be installed primarily along the highways. Ionity - a joint venture of Audi, BMW, Daimler, Ford, Porsche and VW - is working on such a network, for example. However, the general power grid is not designed for such charging capacities and grid-supported stationary battery storage will be required.

The infrastructure also includes information for drivers of electric cars about free charging points and a billing mode that is as simple as possible and includes all providers. In practice, there are still obstacles to overcome.

What Ranges Can Electric Vehicles Achieve?

For purely electric vehicles, the range per battery charge is the critical (and much-discussed) parameter and thus a decisive factor for the acceptance of the electric drive. A few years ago, 200 to 250 km were still common. The new models announced for 2019 by manufacturers such as Auto and Daimler state ranges of around 450 km. Vehicles with specific operational purposes such as the delivery vehicle Streetscooter get by with shorter ranges (approx. 120 km).

In the future, electric cars can also be used as part of smart grids. Their battery is then used as a storage system for decentralized networks and automatically charged when (regenerative) energy is available. If necessary, the batteries return the energy to the grid when the vehicle does not call it up. This technique is referred to as "sector coupling" and is currently the subject of much debate. This refers to the coupling of energy producers and consumers, which were previously separate from each other. Electric mobility will integrate the previously crude oil-based energy supply for transport into the centralized or decentralized power grid. This opens up additional synergy effects for all sectors involved.

E-Mobility: Status of the German Automotive Industry

The German automobile manufacturers only entered the electromobility market at a late point, but have now announced a vertabel model offensive. VW alone wants to present around 80 new electric models by 2025 and introduce its own brand ID for electric vehicles in 2020. In November 2018, the Group announced that by 2025 it would invest around 30 billion euros in electric mobility.

Audi has presented theall-electric SUV E-Tron, Mercedes the EQC and Porsche prepares the launch of the Taycan (based on the Mission E study) for 2019. BMW has been on the market with the i3 and i8 models since 2013. Opel has had various Ampera models in its range since 2012 - when it was still a General Motors subsidiary - and Ford plans to introduce several electric car models such as the crossover vehicle Mach E in 2020.

Interactive chart: Which OEMs will be the technology leaders in electric mobility in 2025?

What Effects Does Electromobility Have on Vehicle Architecture?

The elimination of the internal combustion engine has considerable effects on vehicle architecture, as does the integration of the bulky and heavy battery. In order to compensate for their weight, new technologies and materials are introduced to body construction.

All in all, electromobility offers opportunities for new concepts and for moving away from a tried and tested basic design that is decades old. Many companies see opportunities for the establishment of new technologies (e.g. for additive manufacturing processes and for automotive lightweight design) or for their market entry into the automotive industry (e.g. manufacturers of electric motors).

The effects of electromobility on the supply chain are just as severe. All components of the combustion engine (a four-digit number of components) become obsolete, as are auxiliary units such as the tank and exhaust system. The (usually two-stage) gearbox is much simpler in design or is completely omitted. Braking and steering systems as well as the wheel suspension are changing significantly, as are, for example, the heating/air conditioning. At the same time, additional electrical and electronic components are required.

Electric mobility will therefore result in significant changes in the supplier industry. According to Cedric Perlewitz, Head of Automotive & Transport at Commerzbank, automotive suppliers therefore need to accelerate their strategy change towards e-mobility: "New cross-sector competitors or OEMs specializing in pure e-cars compete with the established players." 6 For example, in 2017, Bosch, an automotive supplier, established a separate business unit for electromobility.

The economic effects should also not be underestimated. According to a study conducted by the Institute for Labour Market and Occupational Research in December 2018, almost 114,000 jobs will be lost in Germany due to the switch to electric drive systems for passenger cars. The main reason for this is the much simpler design of the drive train. 7

The Future of Electromobility — Just a Bridge Technology?

According to experts, it has not been determined whether electromobility is the ideal solution for the era after the use of fossil fuels. There are voices that see electric vehicles only as a bridge technology for other types of energy and drives. In particular, fuel cell vehicles powered by hydrogen could prevail in the medium term, as could alternative liquid fuels (so-called e-fuels).


1)Electromobility,, retrieved on 4.12.2018

2) Holger Holzer, One million e-vehicles in the USA. of 3.12.2018, retrieved on 3.12.2018

3) Porsche Consulting (Ed.) Effects of the electrification of the automobile on German mechanical engineering. Download at: Porsche Consulting


5) Holger Holzer, Solid-state batteries: China starts series production. from 26.11.2018, retrieved on 3.12.2018

6) Cited after: Branchenbarometer E-Mobilität. In: Automobil Industrie 10/2018, p. 10

7) Conversion to electric cars: More than 100,000 jobs will be lost. from 5.12.2018, accessed on 5.12.2018

This article was first published by Automobilindustrie.

Original: Svenja Gelowicz / Translation: Alexander Stark