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320 kilometers per charge? "In the city, customers don't need a long range"

For many drivers, it is the biggest obstacle when switching to electromobility: the price of new cars with batteries is still very high compared to petrol or diesel vehicles.

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320 kilometers per charge? "In the city, customers don't need a long range"

For many drivers, it is the biggest obstacle when switching to electromobility: the price of new cars with batteries is still very high compared to petrol or diesel vehicles. The car manufacturers charge between 30,000 and 40,000 euros even for small cars with electric drives - a good 10,000 euros more than for comparable combustion engines.

The best-selling cars in this size class in Europe come from the Stellantis Group, which includes the brands Fiat, Peugeot and Opel. A reason to cheer for Uwe Hochschurtz, Europe boss of Stellantis, who emphasizes the success of the electric variants of Fiat 500, Peugeot 208 and Opel Corsa - and defends their prices. The cars are "not overly expensive," he says in an interview with WELT.

“Because electrification means around 50 percent more costs compared to a vehicle with a combustion engine. But if you deduct the German environmental bonus, which has been extended, you get a fair price and get a lot of car for your money.”

According to the Stellantis manager, delivery times vary due to many unforeseeable factors, but finished vehicles are also available from dealers. "Our order backlog is still very high, even if orders are now at a slightly lower level," says Hochgeschurtz.

In view of the high inflation and poor economic prospects for the coming year, customers in Europe are currently generally reticent. There are practically no cancellations by customers when it comes to electric car orders, says the manager, who was head of the Opel brand until spring.

Stellantis' strength in small electric cars is based, among other things, on the weakness of its major competitor Volkswagen in this segment. Apart from the e-up, which cannot currently be ordered, the Wolfsburg-based group has no electric car below the Golf class on offer. The Polo-sized ID.2 from VW is not expected to come onto the market until 2025, but will then cost less than 25,000 euros.

"In three years, that will be a super attractive price for an electric vehicle," said the head of the Volkswagen brand, Thomas Schäfer, in the WELT interview in the summer. Hochschurtz has a biting comment for these announcements by the competitors: "Customers don't buy promises," he says. “I like to believe that something better will come in the future. But if you want to buy a car, then it has to be on the market.”

Hochschutz does not see that the drivers would be dissatisfied with the short range of the vehicles. According to the WLPT test, the Fiat 500 Elektro, for example, has a range of 320 kilometers per battery charge. “Customers drive the vehicle where it makes sense: in the city. They don't need such a large range there," says the manager. “Many customers only charge their car a few times a month because they only drive 500 to 600 kilometers a month.”

Hochschutz is convinced that the range, i.e. the size of the battery, will also play a lesser role outside of the city in the future. "In the future, the range will no longer be the decisive factor for an electric car, but the charging time," he says. Enormous progress has been made in this area in recent years.

While early electric cars had charging times of several hours, most current models can be recharged in far less than an hour. "In the next few years we will be talking about loading times of around 15 minutes," Hochschutz is certain. Then the range will no longer be in the advertising, but the time in which the car can be recharged.

Another product is very important to the manager, who was head of Germany for the competitor Renault for years: the Opel Rocks e. According to the registration, this small electric car is not a real car at all.

The maximum speed is limited to 45 km/h and you can drive it from the age of 15 with a driving license category AM. "We're reducing mobility to the essentials, for a price starting at 8,000 euros," says Hochschurtz. During his time as Opel boss, he drove the car more often between Rüsselsheim and Mainz.

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"I wouldn't have been faster with an Opel Astra." The spartan mini car and its counterpart Citroën Ami sold "fantastic". “That is why we are increasing production capacity to 50,000 units per year. You won't get a vehicle like this from any competitor, and nothing else is foreseeable at the moment," says Hochschurtz. He is convinced that the sales volume will steadily increase, as "we continue to develop the models and introduce new variants." The car is built at the Kénitra plant in Morocco.

In China, small e-cars for the city sell particularly well. The best-selling electric car is the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV, which costs a similar amount to a Rocks e - but is a "real" car with a top speed of 100 kilometers per hour. The group has long since decided that Stellantis cars in Europe will only be sold with an electric motor and battery well before 2035. Nevertheless, Opel in Rüsselsheim is also developing drives with hydrogen and fuel cells. Transporters like the Opel Vivaro can also be ordered as a hydrogen variant. Which, of course, hardly anyone does.

The fuel cell cars will probably remain in a market niche. "The electric motor with battery will be the dominant technology in the next two decades because it offers the best mix of economy, ecology and driving pleasure," says Hochschurtz. "But with heavier vehicles, there is a window for hydrogen vehicles." They are suitable for tradespeople who have to drive long distances at a time and cannot afford to take charging breaks. "For most others, an electric Opel Vivaro, a Peugeot Expert, Citroën Jumpy or Fiat E-Scudo is sufficient," says the manager.

The hydrogen transporter will therefore not be sufficient to fully utilize production at the Opel main plant in Rüsselsheim. The Opel Astra has to take care of that. With the new variant of the model, the Rüsselsheim plant has made "very good progress in terms of quality", says the Europe boss. “Competitiveness is not yet at the level that we would like. But we are on the right track.” Rüsselsheim and Eisenach are “still a bit more expensive” than other Stellantis locations. "We have a clear goal: the German plants must also continue to deliver the best quality and be competitive," says Hochschurtz.

These are the criteria for all locations. Whereby he sees the competition with the factories in the USA as relaxed. Stellantis also includes brands such as Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge. "The production costs of a car are no higher in Europe than in America," says Hochschurtz. The high energy prices did not change that. There are also many differences within the USA, for example between the northern states and the southern states; similar to that between countries in Europe.

However, Hochschurtz does not think much of a major restructuring like that of his former employer Renault. The French group has just announced that it will bring the production of internal combustion engines into a joint venture with the Chinese Geely Group.

"We have no plans to separate the business with electric cars from that with combustion engines," says Hochschurtz. "That wouldn't be very fair. What do you say to the employee who builds combustion engines and therefore perhaps does not have the same future as someone who produces electric motors?” However, there will still be joint ventures or cooperation for individual components.

The big competitor Volkswagen is also managing the transformation within the company. However, for years VW has bundled engine production in the internal supplier Group Components, which belongs to the same area as the new battery cell subsidiary Power Co. In Salzgitter, employees from engine production are already moving to the future battery factory, which is being built on the same site.

The same should happen with Stallantis. The group's joint venture with Total and Mercedes-Benz is building a battery cell factory at the Opel component plant in Kaiserslautern. If it starts as planned in 2025, Opel workers will also be employed there.

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