Researchers at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) are simulating various scenarios to try and answer this question. If we assume that it will take a long time for conditions in the transport sector to change, then it will obviously be quite a while before electric cars penetrate the market. In these kinds of scenarios, fuel prices do not rise significantly, no one achieves an amazing technological breakthrough with batteries, and consumers do not radically change their behaviour. They also assume that car manufacturers will not be especially willing to risk pursuing innovative marketing strategies for speeding up the success of electric cars. If this is the case, then we can expect about 150,000 electric cars to be on Germany’s roads by 2020.
But DLR researchers have also found that, if they take a very optimistic view of how the transport sector might develop, that figure could be several times higher. This will all depend on carbon emissions standards becoming stricter, the price of fossil fuels rising, and batteries reaching a stage where they are cheap and powerful enough to be economically viable. Governments could lend a hand by doing things like lowering taxes on electric cars. Public funding for research (into building more powerful batteries, say) is also important. Another aspect will be the way changing demographics alter purchasing behaviour among consumers.
All in all, a great many factors will determine whether and to what extent electric cars get going – and the crystal ball is not giving any clear answers right now.
Dorothee Bürkle of the DLR answered this question on the basis of an interview with Prof. Ulrich Wagner, Director of Energy and Transport on the DLR management board.