Electromobility Guide: All you need to know

Climate-friendly and emission-free: E-cars are a key component in the transport transition and are therefore regarded as the means of transport of the future. Are you planning to switch to a battery-powered vehicle and wondering where and how you can charge it and how much it costs to run? Our Consumer Guide on the subject of electromobility provides you with answers to key questions.

Buying an e-car: financial benefits and incentives

E-cars usually cost more to buy than comparable models with a combustion engine. However, many countries offer government incentives to people buying them.

What are the financial benefits of purchasing an e-car in Germany?

  • The German government subsidizes the purchase of an electric vehicle with an “environmental bonus”: currently, the amount is 5,000 to 6,000 euros for a fully electric car and up to 4,500 euros for a hybrid model. However, the grant only applies to cars registered from November 5, 2019 to December 31, 2025.
  • Vehicle tax for battery-powered vehicles registered for the first time by December 31, 2025, does not need to be paid until December 31, 2030. This tax break is still granted if there is an ownership change within that period. This arrangement does not apply to hybrid vehicles.
  • Governments in federal states are also supporting the transport transition: Many offer a financial subsidy for installing private wallboxes.
  • Tip: Before you buy a car, inquire with its manufacturer, who may frequently offer attractive additional incentives to anyone buying an e-car.

The situation in other countries

Many countries worldwide are keen to incentivize the use of e-cars. In the U.S., all federal taxes that depend on fuel consumption are waived for anyone purchasing an e-car. Norway has created a further incentive to buy e-cars by exempting them from the 25% VAT normally levied. The positive effect of this tax break is that the price of an e-car in Norway is around that of a similar model with a combustion engine.

Charging e-cars: What you should know and heed

Owners of an e-vehicle can also charge it at home. However, that raises the inevitable question: Can anyone charge their e-car at home? Yes, but subject to certain requirements. In principle, a skilled electrician must first examine whether a charging station can be installed. If a building is old, it may well be that e-cars cannot be charged at a high power level. Home owners then have to upgrade their power system or use public charging stations instead.

Where and how do I charge an e-car at home?

The quickest and most efficient way is to install a special wall-mounted charging station for e-cars, termed a wallbox, with a 400-volt three-phase connection. It is ideally located in the garage or carport at home and directly connected to the home’s electric power supply. At present, wallboxes usually have a type 2 EU plug, which is connected up to the e-car during charging.

Beware: Charging an e-car from a household socket is possible without any problems only if the line has been installed professionally. Otherwise there is the risk that the power cable, plug or socket will overheat.

How long does it take to charge an e-car?

The precise charging time depends on many factors, such as charging power, battery capacity of an e-vehicle, the charging phase and the charging source.

The charging time an e-car is calculated as follows: charging time = battery capacity/charging power.

The charging power is an important benchmark for the charging time and range of an e-car. In order to calculate it, you need the number of phases the connection at a charging station provides. A distinction is made between single-phase and three-phase connections.

The charging power is calculated as follows: charging power = number of phases * voltage (V) * current intensity (A)

Further factors are:

The larger a battery’s capacity is, the longer it takes to charge. It takes around twice as long to charge an e-car model from a French automobile manufacturer with a 40-kWh battery than its predecessor model with a 22-kWh battery. On the other hand, the range with a larger battery is greater, although not twice as far, since it depends on how slowly or quickly the car is driven, among other things. Many e-vehicles offer a choice of different battery variants.

The final phase in charging a lithium-ion battery takes the longest. This type of battery is charged very quickly up to around 80 percent of its capacity. After that, the process is significantly slower. The reason: Up to the 80% mark, the battery is charged with a rising voltage and the same current intensity. After the 80 percent mark, there is no increase in voltage and the current intensity falls slowly. In general, lithium-ion batteries remain efficient for longer, but only if their charging cycles are as “flat” as possible. Charging a battery from 40 to 60 percent is far gentler on it than from 10 to 100 percent.

There are various sources with different power – the higher a source’s power, the faster the battery is charged. The time it takes to charge an e-car from the individual sources cannot be stated precisely, since the source is just one of several factors.

Here is an overview of the various charging sources:

  • A normal socket has a charging power of 3.7 kilowatts
  • A common wallbox has, by contrast, a charging power of 11 kilowatts
  • Normal public stations usually have a charging power of 22 kilowatts
  • Fast-charging stations supply direct current at a power of 50 kilowatts
  • Ultra-fast charging stations even boast a power of 150 to 350 kilowatts

What you need to know about charging stations for e-cars

Charging stations are vital for electric vehicles to be able to run. However, a number of things have to be taken into account when charging them – not only the charging process itself, but also payment and related costs.

How does charging e-cars at charging stations work?

Drive up to the gas pump, fuel and continue on your journey: Charging an e-car at a public station is similar in principle to the familiar, conventional way of fueling a vehicle with a combustion engine – except you should be prepared to wait a little longer.

Here’s how the charging process works:

  1. Identification using the charging card:
    In most cases, you have to identify yourself by means of the electricity provider’s charging card. If that is not required, you have immediate access to the charging socket.
  2. Connection:
    The car is connected up to the charging station, either with a cable there or using your own. If you use your own cable, you must make sure that it is first connected to the charging station and only then to your car. The type 2 plug, termed the Mennekes plug, has become established in Germany. It is regarded as the universal standard for charging stations throughout Europe.
  3. Charging:
    As soon as the charging process starts, the cable is locked in place at the charging station. Once charging is over, detach the plug from the car first and then the charging cable from the station. 

How much does it cost to charge e-cars?

At service stations, car drivers can see the gas price on the display before they start fueling. That is a little different at charging stations for electric vehicles. The cost depends on the charging station operator and electricity provider. There are many different charging station operators with different billing systems and electricity providers throughout Europe.

How costs are billed depends on the following factors:

  • Charging time:
    Not only the pure charging time, but also the whole time your e-car is connected to the charging station is billed.
  • Amount charged:
    The amount of electricity charged – per kilowatt hour (kWh) – is billed.
  • Basic fee:
    Apart from the charging time and amount charged, many providers demand an additional basic monthly fee.
  • Starting fee:
    A one-off fee is payable when the charging process starts.

Apart from the fees levied by the charging station operators, there are sharp differences in electricity prices within the EU. You may have to pay between €0.10 and €0.89 per kilowatt hour – depending on the current electricity price in the country in question and whether the charging station is a public or private one. If you use the electricity in your own four walls, you pay an average of €0.30 per kilowatt hour in Germany. For a BMW i3 with a 42-kWh battery, that comes to €12.60 for a full charge, which would be enough for an average range of around 260 kilometers.

How do you pay at public charging stations?

There are various ways of paying at charging points. The German Charging Station Ordinance (LSV) in force since March 2019 even prescribes the technical standards that govern payment and aim to simplify it.

  • Payment by charging card
    Some operators offer their customers their own customer card, which often has a chip to enable contactless payment. Since most providers are often amalgamated in one large partner network, you can pay at many charging stations nationwide using just one card.
  • Paying by EC or credit card
    You can also pay by EC or credit card at charging points. However, you usually have to authenticate yourself as the user beforehand or register to permit this method of payment. It’s rare to find simple payment without registration or identification, as, for example, at a parking machine.
  • Paying by smartphone app
    Digital payment by smartphone app is becoming increasingly popular among operators. You scan the QR code at the charging station and pay by the defined method.
  • Paying by SMS
    One rarer option is to pay for the electricity by SMS. To enable that, the relevant value added services must be enabled by your mobile carrier so that the electricity can be debited from your prepaid credit balance or billed through your mobile phone contract.

Where can I find charging stations for e-cars?

There are numerous interactive maps showing where charging stations are. They are provided on the web by manufacturers, power utilities and other institutions; one example is the list of charging stations published by the German Federal Network Agency.

There are now many smartphone apps on the market, such as clever-tanken, EnBW mobility+ and chargeEV, that guide you to charging stations located in your vicinity. A further aid in finding the nearest charging station is state-of-the-art navigation devices that have the relevant maps.

How many charging stations are there in Europe?

The more e-cars there are on the roads, the greater the need there is for charging stations. The European Alternative Fuels Observatory estimates the figure for publicly accessible charging stations at around 259,591 for the EU – 60 percent more than in 2019.

Currently the Netherlands make the largest contribution to that list, with a total of 82,263 public charging stations, followed by Germany with 47,076 and France with 45,990. Until 2030 the EU is eager to meet the projected need of around 3 million charging stations.

In Germany the charging infrastructure is to be expanded massively in the coming years: More than 50,000 new charging points are planned by 2022, and the German government even aims to create a million new ones by 2030.

How many e-cars and charging stations are there in countries outside Europe, such as China, the U.S. and Japan?

In 2020 a total number of 9.9 million e-cars were registered worldwide. This is an increase of 3 million compared to 2019 – a growth of around 40 percent.

  • China is the world champion when it comes to electromobility. It is not only the leading producer of battery cells, but also far ahead of the rest in terms of number of registered e-vehicles: Almost 4 million are on China’s roads. Accordingly, it has a large charging network. There are 808,000 charging points in China, of which 330,000 are public. Public fast-charging stations account for 38 percent of them. 
  • There are 1.7 million e-vehicles in the U.S. and more than 100,000 public charging stations, of which 13 percent are fast-charging ones. The U.S. state of Maryland even boasts the first service station to have completely replaced pumps for fossil fuel with e-charging stations.
  • Japan is also pressing ahead with electrification: there were 330,000 e-vehicles there in 2020. Japan therefore belongs to the countries with most electric vehicles on the roads and is in good company with countries like China, the U.S. and Norway.

When is it worth buying a hybrid car?

The word “hybrid” means “of mixed origin” and so a hybrid car is powered from two different sources: usually an electric motor and a combustion engine.

A hybrid drive has two main advantages:

  • Lower consumption than a vehicle with a combustion engine
  • Better acceleration than a vehicle with a combustion engine

Whether it’s worth buying a hybrid car and how much it pays off depends above all on where it is used. In particular in conurbations and cities, hybrid cars save a lot more energy compared to vehicles that just have a combustion engine. However, longer trips on the highway can mean higher consumption, since the combustion engine is mainly used at higher speeds and hybrid cars weigh more due to their dual drive technology.

What is the difference between a hybrid, plug-in hybrid and e-car?

Compared to pure e-cars, hybrid ones not only have a rechargeable battery on board, but – because they also have a combustion engine – a tank for fossil fuels. That increases their range. Unlike a pure hybrid vehicle, a plug-in hybrid has one battery with a higher capacity. This battery is recharged not only through the recovered braking energy, but can also obtain electricity from a socket.

In our discovery article on the subject of hybrid cars, you can learn all you need to know about this alternative drive technology.

The most important questions and answers at a glance

According to a study by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment and the Fraunhofer Institute, e-cars have a far more positive greenhouse gas footprint (CO2 footprint) over their service life than vehicles with a combustion engine. Compared to an economical diesel vehicle, the CO2 emissions of an e-car are 16 percent lower and even 27 percent lower than those of a state-of-the-art gasoline car. According to calculations by the German Environment Agency, battery-powered vehicles will also stay “in the fast lane” in that regard in the future: It is anticipated that a new e-car registered 2025 will produce 32 percent fewer CO2 emissions than a diesel car and even 40 percent fewer than a gasoline one.

The picture as regards other environmental impacts is more differentiated: The particulate matter emitted by and raw materials used in making e-cars are higher than with cars that have a combustion engine.

Ultimately, the weighting and assessment of the individual factors, such as provision of electricity, CO2 emissions, production and scrapping, are key elements in an overall analysis of how eco-friendly a car is.

The technology for electromobility is still very young compared with that for cars with a combustion engine. That is why there are no representative long-term studies to date. Unlike a car with a combustion engine, however, an e-car boasts the advantage of having fewer components that are subject to wear and tear. Nevertheless, the electrical system and chassis have to be serviced regularly so that defects that arise can be detected quickly. The particular focus of that is on the e-car’s most expensive and key part: the battery. Vendors state that current batteries can run for 100,000 to 160,000 kilometers. That corresponds to a service life of eight to ten years and around 500 to 1,000 charging cycles. Yet a battery with a diminishing performance does not mean the car has to be discarded. The battery can be repaired or refurbished in most cases.

Anyone who drives a car must insure it. As is the case with all cars that have a combustion engine, only third-party liability insurance is prescribed by law for e-cars. The premiums for that are calculated on the basis of factors such as engine power, the vehicle model and the driver’s age. Some insurers also offer lower premiums for eco-friendly vehicles. Third party, fire and theft insurance or fully comprehensive insurance can be taken out as an option, but are usually a little more expensive than for vehicles with a combustion engine.

The battery is also an important factor in insurance for e-vehicles. Tip: Make sure that the battery is fully covered in your collision damage insurance. If it is not, you should have it insured in addition.

How much does it cost to run an e-car?

Taxes, electricity, insurance and maintenance: As with a gasoline or diesel vehicle, those are the main running costs you have to budget for with an electric one. Of course, they vary from country to country. The fixed costs for an e-car in Germany are therefore looked at in this specific example.

The rate of tax for a conventional car is calculated on the basis of engine size and emissions. An e-car is taxed on the basis of the permissible total weight: the heavier the car, the higher the rate of tax.

  • Up to a maximum permissible total weight of 2,000 kilos: €5.62 per commenced 200 kilos and year
  • Up to a maximum permissible total weight of 3,000 kilos: €6.01 per commenced 200 kilos and year
  • Up to/more than a maximum permissible total weight of 3,500 kilos: €6.39 per commenced 200 kilos and year

That means a total of €50.63 per annum in tax is payable on a BMW i3 with a permissible total weight of around 1,800 kilograms. If it is registered by the end of 2020, you do not have to pay vehicle tax for the next ten years, meaning you save €506.30.

An e-car needs a regular shot of its “electric fuel.” There are various ways of charging it.

  • Many companies offer their employees their own parking spots where they can charge their e-cars for free. Tax does not have to be paid on the monetary value of that benefit. That means the employer pays for their daily travel to and from work.
  • You also have a good chance of charging your car for free at public spaces, such as near to car showrooms, supermarkets and shopping malls.
  • At charging points where you have to pay, the costs of charging an e-car can be up to €0.89 per kWh, depending on the tariff and means of billing.
  • A low-cost alternative at a stable price is electricity from your own four walls: Electricity from a wallbox or socket at home costs an average of €0.30 per kilowatt hour – much less than at many public charging stations.

Fewer parts that wear out also means less maintenance work: Owners of an e-car save a projected average of €1,300 in maintenance costs over eight years. You can also lease a battery from some manufacturers. That means you do not buy it along with the vehicle, but rent it at a fixed monthly price. When the battery’s capacity diminishes, it is replaced free of charge. Once the battery has done its duty and can no longer be recycled, consumers can return it to the dealer or take it to a recycling depot.

The electricity comes from renewable energies, generated, for example, by wind turbines and photovoltaic systems, as well as from fossil sources, such as lignite, hard coal, natural gas and nuclear power. According to the German Association of Energy and Water Industries, the share of energy produced from renewable sources reached 55,8 percent in 2020. The aim is for a total of 65 percent of the electricity consumed to come from renewable sources by 2030. Many power utilities also offer their customers special green tariffs.

The more successful the mobility transition, the more green electricity Germany will need.
The good news is that Germany’s power grid will also be able to cope with the electromobility boom in the future. According to the German automobile association ADAC, the power supply is already sufficient to supply 10 million e-cars with electricity. By way of comparison: There are 702.981 e-cars on German roads at the moment.

When a battery is replaced, it still usually has up to 70 percent of its original capacity. That means disposing of it does not make economic or ecological sense. That is why many replaced batteries are given a new lease of life, for example, as a stationary means of storing solar and wind power.

All cars that are allowed on the road must guarantee maximum safety. That is prescribed by law. It is immaterial whether a vehicle is powered by gasoline, diesel, natural gas, LNG or, as in this case, battery. In the case of an electric vehicle, damage to the battery is the most critical thing that can happen. That is why the manufacturer takes special measures to protect it. In the event of an accident, the flow of electricity is cut off immediately in order to prevent a voltage surge and short circuits. The ADAC confirms that none of the current e-models has displayed any anomalies in a crash test to date. E-cars are even often safer than cars with a combustion engine because their crashworthiness has been optimized.

A lithium-ion battery is installed as standard in an e-car. The recommended temperature range for such a battery to deliver optimum performance is between 15 and 35 degrees Celsius. If the heating is turned up in cold weather, that uses up energy and reduces the e-car’s range.

The battery’s service life falls sharply at temperatures above 35 degrees. One solution is to use thermal management systems that both cool and heat the car – however, they are not yet an automatic standard in every e-car model.

Last update: July 2021