Share Now nixes electric cars, blaming bad infrastructure and costs

Berlin has nearly eight electric cars for every one charging station despite noises to support a transport revolution.

Charge, charge, charge to get on the Autobahn.
Charge, charge, charge to get on the Autobahn.imago images

Berlin-They were part of BMW's dowry when the company's DriveNow merged with Daimler's car sharer Car2go to form Share Now – more than 100 electric BMW i3s. But the i3 is a thing of the past for Share Now's fleet. The only drivetrain choice customers now have is diesel or gasoline. So much for the mobility revolution. 

"Unfortunately, the Berlin location doesn't currently have the necessary conditions for successfully operating a partially electric vehicle fleet long-term," says Kathrin Amthor of Share Now. "We can confirm that we unfortunately no longer have any electric vehicles in our Berlin fleet at this time."

Berlin will be home to least 250,000 electric cars in 2030, according to a forecast by the Reiner Lemoine Institute. The study says about 50,000 charging stations will then be needed, ignoring charging stations installed in detached and semi-detached houses. On average, 5,000 new charging points would have to be installed every year until 2030, or 100 per week.

But Berlin plans call for just 800 new stations in the next two years. Although there have been noises about accelerating that pace, little has been done. Eight years ago, for example, a Berlin start-up had transformed a street lamp into a charging station for electric cars, but not even 50 of the charging streetlights have been added. London now has more than 2,000 lanterns and New York is next up. 

For Share Now, the bad infrastructure was just one reason. Costs and lease expirations also led to the decision.

The main issue is actually cost. Parking on public streets is expensive and, according to the company's own figures, the company's 1,900-strong Berlin fleet incurs parking costs of at €200,000 per month. Share Now had hoped to reduce parking costs by exploiting the Electric Mobility Act, which allows free parking for electric vehicles. In Hamburg and Munich, the plan works.

But in Berlin, electric cars still have to pay for parking while charging because politicians are trying to reduce overall traffic in the city, not encourage anyone to park.

"From a transport policy point of view, it would be a false incentive that would contribute to more car traffic instead of avoiding it," says traffic management spokesman Jan Thomsen. No free parking for electric cars, Electic Mobility Act be damned.

The phase of experimenting with car sharing seems to be over

Stefan Batzel

Costs are a huge problem for the BMW-Daimler venture, which is still in the red. The company has already shuttered businesses in the US, Canada, London, Brussels and Florence, citing high operating costs. And the corona pandemic hasn't helped, causing losses to mount as car usage fell by up to 70 per cent.

The service is already in the sights of company cost-cutters. "In the future, however, cashflow must also become positive there, otherwise we will react," Daimler CEO Ola Källenius said this summer. Rumours of a partial sale circulated, such as the divestment of the Free Now taxi division to segment giant Uber. 

"The phase of experimenting with car sharing seems to be over," Stefan Batzel, Director of the Center of Automotive Management at the Bergisch-Gladbach University of Applied Sciences, told Berliner Zeitung. He says a sale of Share Now could be possible. "The call for a quick return on investment is getting louder and louder."

Although the lack of profitability seems to be the biggest problem for Share Now, the insufficient charging infrastructure in Berlin is also a problem. Berlin's traffic specialists reject the charge.

"Berlin, together with Munich and Hamburg, has by far the most charging points in the public space," says Jan Thomsen, spokesperson for the environment, transport and environmental protection ministry. Berlin, Thomsen says, has 1,150 charging stations, Munich 1,247, Hamburg 1,096, Düsseldorf 247 and Cologne 240.

Okay, but the problem becomes apparent when the number of electric cars is brought in for comparison. In Munich, government statistics through 2019 show there are 1.2 electric cars for every charging station, in Hamburg 3.1 and in Berlin 4.2. Folding in registration figures from January to October of this year, the number in Berlin climbs to nearly seven cars per charging point.

However, the situation is even more dire than that because Volkswagen alone operates 1,500 electric Golfs with its WeShare car sharing wing and they don't appear in the official statistics because they're registered in Weimar for branding reasons.

That brings the number up to eight electric cars per charging station in Berlin. Although the city plans to increase the number of charging points to around 2,000 by 2022, the number of e-cars is expected to grow to as many as 15,000 by then. A current E.On study shows Berliners have gained a taste for electric cars and 73 per cent of them can imagine buying an electric-only (as opposed to hybrid drive) car. Nationwide it's 64 per cent.

WeShare recharges its 1,500 e-Golfs either the public charging infrastructure or the 140 charging points at Kaufland and Lidl supermarkets, but only at night.

This article was adapted from a German article on Share Now's electric car decision by Andrew Bulkeley