Power to the people

Power to the people

“The only power cut in South Africa should be on May 7. Vote DA.” I receive this very clever electioneering message as I’m boarding a flight to Berlin. It’s very apt, I think to myself – because I am heading to the German capital to drive electric cars and learn about Volkswagen’s sustainability efforts …

The Germans like electric cars. Chancellor Angela Merkel even has a public goal of putting one million e-cars on German roads by 2020. Of course, in Germany, they don’t have blackouts like we have here in South Africa …

I’m looking forward to my trip for a bundle of reasons. First and foremost is the fact that I love electric cars. Yes, I know that they are not without their challenges in this country of perpetual darkness. I know that there are issues with range, price and batteries … But I love driving electric cars. I adore the fact that they don’t trash the environment (while they’re running; their manufacturing is another story entirely). And I love the torque of an electric motor – so expect to read more about them within the future pages of SHEQ MANAGEMENT.

Then there is the actual destination. While it’s an exhibition centre now, Tempelhof Airport played a vital role during the Berlin blockade from June 1948 to May 1949. It was the take-off and landing site for the so-called “raisin bombers” that assured the provision of vital supplies for the residents of West Berlin. These aircraft also dropped sweets, sometimes borne by handmade parachutes, to the delight of the children. It’s a fascinating destination indeed …

Third, there is the theme of e-mobility and sustainability. Volkswagen is holding a massive celebration of green technology, which even includes performances by some really cool electric bands. So there’s lots of fun to be had. However, I am keen to chat with experts about sustainability. After all, Volkswagen has been named the world’s most sustainable automotive group (according to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, the most significant benchmark for measuring the corporate performance of the world’s most sustainable companies). When it comes to green stuff, Volkswagen clearly knows a thing or two.

It is thus that I arrive at the famous airport. The first port of call is a static exhibition in one of the three hangars that Volkswagen has rented for the event (which, incidentally, will be attended by 28 000 people). There are lots of green cars on display – I am particularly captivated by the XL1, which uses just 0,9 l/100 km and boasts a carbon dioxide emissions value of just 21 g/km. The futuristic XL1 features an 800 cc diesel engine and a 20 kW electric motor. Power is served through a seven-speed triple clutch transmission. It is also low (just 1 282 mm high); it features scissor-opening wing doors and its body is made largely of carbon-fibre reinforced polymer. It’s one of the coolest cars I have ever seen.

I am also fascinated to learn more about Volkswagen’s commitment to sustainability. This is reiterated by Prof Dr Martin Winterkorn, the company’s CEO: “No other manufacturer is working so systematically on the issue of sustainability. We already offer the largest fleet of efficient vehicles in the world, with 54 model variants alone below 100 grams CO2/km,” he tells the media. Wandering about the exhibition and chatting to green gurus, I also discover that the company also wants to make its factories 25 percent more environmentally compatible by 2018. It’s already made great strides in this regard: in the past two years alone, energy and water consumption per vehicle have been cut by around 10 percent.

Power to the peopleThen it’s time to hop into the e-Golf and go for a spin. I am fortunate in that I am paired with a jaded motoring hack who has never parked his derriere in an electric car before. I say this because it’s just marvellous to see his reaction. I’ve driven a multitude of electric cars before – so I know that they’re fun to drive, because you put down your right foot and you go! He’s unaware of this, and not overly enthusiastic about the idea of chugging around Berlin in a slow, boring, GREEN car. (After all, green stuff is ever so dull, right?)

Within seconds, he’s giggling like a girl. That’s because the 85 kW, electric motor produces its maximum drive torque of 270 Nm immediately. The result? The front-wheel drive e-Golf reaches
100 km/h in 10,4 seconds. Now I know precisely what motoring purists will say – that’s hardly quick. True. But the e-Golf actually feels a lot faster than it is. It even goes 140 km/h. Not that we experience this; we drive around the city centre, which is where electric cars are right at home. We also drive around one block no fewer than seven times. That’s because the navigation system goes mad and sends us in circles. (This is when it is my turn to giggle.)

So, the e-Golf feels nippy and it makes you smile – for a variety of reasons. It definitely could represent the future of mobility in Germany – but what about here in South Africa? Let’s wait and see. It will arrive here late in 2015. And I cannot wait to drive it again. 

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