Summit Shows Huge Potential for Light Electric Vehicles
ROTTERDAM, the Netherlands – End of November, some 120 delegates gathered in Rotterdam for the second Light Electric Vehicle Summit (LEVS). There were some 40 presentations on a wide range of subjects and vehicles, from monowheels, over speed pedelecs up to micro cars.
One unequivocal message transpired from these presentations: the potential for light, electric vehicles is immense and constantly growing. The conference was opened by Pex Langenberg, Vice-Mayor of Rotterdam, responsible for Mobility, Sustainability and Culture. He explained that mobility is not an isolated subject but strongly linked with urban planning and creating a healthy city. He was proud to be able to state that the way Rotterdam is handling mobility creates a new welcome in the city.
Whilst car usage is decreasing and public transport is growing, (e)-cycling is exploding. Rotterdam has a sustainable urban mobility planning (SUMP) aimed at stimulating transition in mobility to smart and electric. Furthermore, there are long term plans to improve accessibility for cycling and public transport.
LEVA-EU Manager, Annick Roetynck, presented an overview of LEVs in the EU-agenda. But first, she showed how the electric bike market has been blossoming for many years without much help. As an example, in 2016 in Germany 15,000 cargo bikes were sold without any fiscal or financial incentives. The 11,410 plug-in electric cars sold that same year enjoyed € 1.2 billion subsidy.
Sales of other LEVs are still marginal. The market of electric mopeds, scooters and motorcycles is small but growing, whilst the ICE part of this market is constantly shrinking. In the first quarter of 2017, registrations went up with 30.5%. The market for self-balancing vehicles and vehicles without a seat is still small and hampered by a lack of harmonized rules. The market of light 3- and 4-wheel vehicles is also small but their potential for the utility market is being discovered.
Roetynck explained that the newly established LEVA-EU is the only trade association in Europe to work exclusively for LEVs. One of LEVA-EU’s activities is raising awareness of LEVs among European institutions to ensure that LEVs will be considered in relevant policies. The European agenda currently holds the following issues that are relevant to LEVs: the review of the Clean Vehicles Directive, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, the Insurance Directive and of Eurovignette, Horizon 2020 and of course all technical rules and legislation.
LEV stumbling blocks
Huw Davies, Senior Lecturer at Conventry University made a very interesting appeal for an in-depth review of the technical rules for very light 4-wheel vehicles. He found that there is very little inclination among car (M1) manufacturers to produce very light vehicles. A light 4-wheel vehicle could be type-approved as M1 or as L7.
The problem is however that crash test regimes for M1 are way too stringent for these light vehicles, meant for low speeds in urban areas. L7 type-approval on the other hand has no crash test requirements. Huw Davies therefore proposes to develop requirements based on the vehicle type and its operational environment, whilst however allowing for a competitive offer. His conclusion: it is really necessary to make a distinction between a small vehicle and a car.
Another major bottleneck which came up quite a few times in this conference was road infrastructure: not adapted to speed pedelecs, not adapted to too many electric bikes, not adapted to cargo bikes, etc. Hulda Tronstad of the Norwegian association for electric vehicle users Elbil carried out a survey among 759 electric bike users. To the question as to what to do to attract more e-bikers, almost 80% referred to better infrastructure. Bram Rotthier who is currently preparing a PhD on speed pedelecs has interviewed a large group of speed pedelec riders in Belgium. They too quoted lack of infrastructure and bad infrastructure as the main impediment.
Outlook City Logistics
The infrastructure issue is just as well obstructing further development of light electric vehicles for logistical services. In his presentation of Outlook City Logistics 2017, Herman Wagter of Connekt, a Dutch network for smart, sustainable and social mobility, said: “Current infrastructure is not adapted to LEVs. There is a battle for road space going on and the standard infrastructure is not adapted.”
Susanne Balm, of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, agreed that there is a battle for road space, but added that there is also a battle against pollution, which has more political weight. The two battles do not necessarily run parallel. In the battle against pollution, cleaning up city logistics has become a major issue.
LEVs in logistics
With the LEVV-Logic project, Amsterdam University is investigating the use of LEVs for city logistics. There is still a long way to go. Today, only 0.6% of new commercial delivery vans in the EU are electric, whilst still taking up a lot of space. Another challenge is the fact that 80% of deliveries are not done by logistics companies but by the suppliers of the goods. They tend to focus on their products rather than on optimizing the delivery process.
An increasing number of LEVs, such as electric cargo bikes, are being introduces in logistics. However, as yet, the motivation has still more to do with environmental awareness and wanting to be a frontrunner than with economics. The key question remains how to turn LEVs into a financially competitive alternative for ICE delivery vans. Susanne Balm stressed that calculations should not be limited to purely economic parameters but should also include an external cost-benefit analysis.
Strangely enough, only 1 of the 40 presentations dealt with speed pedelecs. As mentioned before, Bram Rotthier spoke in Rotterdam about his preliminary findings in the framework of his PhD. He found that the performance of a 25 km/h pedelec is too limited for commutes exceeding 15 km. The speed pedelec users he interviewed were quite satisfied with their means of transport, even if in some cases, their trip was taking more time than by car. This was the case when their route ran parallel with a major road or a good public transport connection. They still preferred the speed pedelec because of the punctuality. They would always be assured of their travel time. What’s more, it turns out that enjoying the ride is a major element in using pedelecs and speed pedelecs for commuting.
“Not a means of transport for commuting”
Rotthier’s presentation was met with a reaction from Burkhard Stork, director of the ADFC. It left many of the LEVS delegates baffled. The director of ADFC, the EU’s largest cyclists’ association, stated with a great deal of verve: “Speed pedelecs are toys for white boys, not a means of transport for commuting. They do not add anything to sustainable transport.” To which Bram Rotthier just noted that so far his research had provided evidence to the contrary.