Interview with Markus Lienkamp "There is no alternative to electromobility"

Author Benjamin Kirchbeck

Electromobility is coming! In this interview, Prof. Markus Lienkamp, former VW manager and current head of the Department of Automotive Engineering at the TU Munich, explains why e-fuels and hydrogen are not alternatives and how new market players are doing.

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When will electric mobility achieve its final breakthrough?
When will electric mobility achieve its final breakthrough?
(Source: Clipdealer)

Next-mobility: A survey conducted by the management consultant KPMG at the beginning of the year revealed that almost one in three of the 229 car bosses surveyed worldwide predicts the end of electric vehicles. Where do the contradiction between this anonymous survey and the public announcements and actions of OEMs come from?

Markus Lienkamp: One thing is clear – there is still some resistance in companies and some may secretly still have doubts about electromobility. I am therefore not particularly surprised by the results of this anonymous survey. Nevertheless, all OEMs worldwide are investing billions in electromobility. No company invests such sums if it does not believe that e-mobility will play a decisive role in the future. However, due to the CO2 limit of 95 g/km that will come into force in 2021, manufacturers have no other option than to produce a certain number of electric cars, if massive fines are to be avoided. Another driving factor is China, the world's most important automotive market. There, the state demands electromobility.

Critical view: Due to "devastatingly poor energy conversion chains", Markus Lienkamp does not consider hydrogen and e-fuels as alternatives for e-mobility at the moment.
Critical view: Due to "devastatingly poor energy conversion chains", Markus Lienkamp does not consider hydrogen and e-fuels as alternatives for e-mobility at the moment.
(Source: TUM)

"There is no technological alternative."

Next-mobility: Isn't electromobility in Europe just a solution demanded by politics?

Markus Lienkamp: Yes, at the moment it is a politically-desired solution in Europe. Nevertheless, we need to differentiate it: In China, the technology is compulsory, in Europe it is not. Here, only the 95g limit applies. If the OEMs can meet this limit by other means, this is of course also permitted. But I don't see any technological alternative.

Next-mobility: When it comes to lightweight construction in e-vehicles, there are also differing opinions. While Prof. Dudenhöffer analyses that lightweight construction in the electric car is losing importance, the former BMW developer Dr. Ulrich Schiefer contradicts and criticises that this statement was not thought through to the end and was simply wrong. Who's right?

Markus Lienkamp: One thing is indisputable: The customer does not buy lightweight construction. They pay for certain properties in vehicles, such as range or acceleration. In this respect, we as technicians and engineers are fascinated by the subject of lightweight construction, but the customer, for the time being, doesn't care.

Next-mobility: But?

Markus Lienkamp: What I don't like is business people thinking they can tell engineers that they no longer need lightweight construction. Only extremely expensive lightweight construction such as CFRP is losing importance. Overall, there is no tendency for the lightweight construction of electric cars to lose importance. The weight of the batteries must be compensated for, otherwise the driving dynamics would suffer immensely. We need about the same degree of lightweight construction as in vehicles with internal combustion engines. But not more either.

Next-mobility: More and more new start-ups are entering the automotive market in the course of electromobility. Is Byton, for example, on the right track? And what about the Munich-based start-up Sono Motors?

Markus Lienkamp: I don't want to elaborate on Sono Motors. I don’t consider it as a serious project. Byton obviously has a budget of several billions available and can therefore put something neat on its wheels.

Next-mobility: You develop new vehicle concepts. What is your approach?

Markus Lienkamp: The first approach we always take is: The result must pay off. We have therefore developed concepts for urban electric mobility, among other things. An example for this is the "Eva" project — an electric taxi specially designed to operate in tropical mega-cities. During my time at VW, I developed an electric mail van, which has now been adopted by others. Apparently, this is also an economical solution. Electric mobility can already work – even in urban areas. Therefore, the first question to answer is: Which overall package provides an economical solution?

Next-mobility: On the topic of "electric mobility in urban areas", we recently received feedback from a next-mobility reader who wanted to buy an electric car for private use. To this end, he asked the responsible Senate employee whether a charging point on a streetlamp in front of his house could be approved. The answer was: He first had to buy the car and send an application form for the charging point. Only then, would the authorities examine whether a charging point was for the public benefit. Is bureaucracy, especially in urban areas, suffocating the fast implementation of electromobility in its infancy?

Markus Lienkamp: As Germans, we are masters in creating red tape (laughs). However, I still believe that the charging infrastructure is being considerably expanded thanks to the federal funding programme (€350 million). The faster this proceeds and the more charging points are made available, the smaller will be the hurdles for customers to buy electric cars.

Next-mobility: There is an increasing demand for politicians to invest more in the expansion of the charging stations instead of subsidising the purchase of e-vehicles...

Markus Lienkamp: I would have preferred if higher sums had been invested in the infrastructure at an earlier time. Nevertheless, it was certainly not entirely wrong to subsidise a certain proportion of electric cars in order to help electromobility gain momentum.

"Hydrogen? By 2040 – but only maybe"

Next-mobility: What about other engine concepts such as hydrogen or e-fuels?

Markus Lienkamp: Both hydrogen and e-fuels require five times as much energy as electric cars in terms of their CO2 balance. Why? Because the energy conversion chains are devastatingly bad. You can't seriously tell the customer that CO2 must be saved and then produce five times as much CO2 or five times as much renewable energy. In the truck segment, we may be able to talk about hydrogen technology in 2040. But only after we have converted the entire energy supply in Europe in order to ensure CO2-free supply. Before that, we do not need to discuss hydrogen.

Next-mobility: Daimler's recently presented hydrogen vehicle "F-Cell" will thus remain a prestige object for the foreseeable future?

Markus Lienkamp: The subsidies in this area are of course taken.

Next-mobility: What vehicle do you drive privately?

Markus Lienkamp: None (laughs). I'm riding a bike. But my next vehicle will certainly be an electric car. I will buy it when technically mature vehicles with the appropriate range and at reasonable cost are available – i.e. in two to three years.

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Next-mobility: Your minimum range?

Markus Lienkamp: A real range of 300 km should suffice, but then under all conceivable circumstances. The NEDC range would thus be around 500 km. This should cover a large part of the journeys arising.

About the person

Prof. Lienkamp (*1967) heads the Chair of Automotive Engineering at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and is involved in the Tum-Create project in Singapore. After studying mechanical engineering at TU Darmstadt and Cornell University, he obtained his doctorate at TU Darmstadt (1995). After an international trainee program at Volkswagen and a stay at the former joint venture between Ford and Volkswagen in Portugal, he led the brake test department for commercial vehicle development in Wolfsburg. Later he was head of the "Electronics and Vehicle" research department at Volkswagen AG Group Research. The focus was on driver assistance systems and vehicle concepts for electric mobility.

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