The history of electro-mobility

RWE and the electric car: A close relationship for 40 years

Electro-mobility can look back over a long tradition at RWE. Under the title "Battery-driven electric road vehicles", RWE started initial research and development work a good 40 years ago. The background: At the end of the 1960s, cities looked increasingly likely to drown in exhaust emissions, soot and noise due to the explosion in car numbers. The almost noiseless electric car, which drives emission-free, appeared to be the ideal solution. Thankfully RWE was intensively looking for new applications for electricity at the time, in order to increase the long-term sales volume of its most important product.


Beginning with commercial vehicles

Research and development work at RWE initially concentrated on commercial vehicles: Together with MAN, Bosch and VARTA, the first working result presented by RWE to the public in 1970 was an electrically driven bus with battery trailer. This was tested in line service at its subsidiary "Koblenzer Elektrizitätswerk und Verkehrs AG (KEVAG)". In April 1971, RWE presented the prototype of a completely new electric van developed by Messerschmidt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB).


Own companies

This was only the beginning, because RWE now started intensive development work. Two companies were set up specifically for this purpose: During the subsequent period, "GES Gesellschaft für elektrischen Straßenverkehr mbH" developed further electric cars in close co-operation with the automotive industry and acquired initial experience of operation. "Stromversorgung elektrisch angetriebener Kraftfahrzeuge GmbH" (SELAK) was intended to establish a network of electric filling stations. The initial fruits of this co-operation were the first electrically driven VW van and a small van developed by Daimler-Benz, small numbers of which were tested in daily use as company vehicles at RWE.


The topic becomes popular

1973's energy crisis and the subsequent call to "get away from oil" generated increased attention and support for the efforts being undertaken by RWE and its partners. With extensive press and state government attendance, the world's first electric battery bus line, which was to remain in operation for 14 years, was launched in October 1974 in Mönchengladbach. A few months later, then Federal Transport Minister Kurt Gscheidle was able to test a Daimler-Benz hybrid electric bus developed by GES. And at the 1975 International Motor Show in Frankfurt, the RWE subsidiary and its partners presented several electric vehicles. A few weeks previously, SELAK had opened the world's first electric filling station. Amidst all of these activities, RWE was well aware that there was still a great deal of development work to do before initial, small series of electric cars would be able to enter production.


The first practical passenger car

In 1981, GES presented the first prototype of a practical electric passenger car: The City-STROMer based on a standard VW Golf. Its trademark: No noise, no exhaust emissions and a top speed of almost 100 km/h. Its daily range was 60 km, 100 km with recharging. A standard socket was sufficient for charging. The initial number of 20 City-Stromer vehicles were also tested in private operation by employees.

 

An entirely new car

In addition to the modification of series production vehicles, RWE decided to follow the path of complete new development. On behalf of the company, engineer Erich Pöhlmann developed a new vehicle, designed consistently as an electric car, in 1981/82. The body, materials and components of the "Pöhlmann EL" vehicle were designed throughout for electric operation. It achieved a top speed of 120 km/h with a range of between 60 and 90 km.

 

Changed down a gear

Despite all improvements in the drive and control system, vehicle testing revealed that the storage capacity and weight of the batteries are vital when it comes to suitability of electric vehicles for daily use. In 1985, RWE regarded the development work on electric cars as essentially completed and dissolved GES and Selak. The development work undertaken by the company created the prerequisites for greater automotive industry commitment. The 1985/1986 RWE annual report stated that only automobile manufacturers would be able to undertake electric vehicle series production and marketing.


New starting point: The battery

However, RWE did not disassociate itself completely from the topic of electric vehicles. A working group within the company continued testing on a smaller scale and with a small fleet of electric vehicles. And the company turned towards the central challenge posed by electric vehicles – a high-performance battery. At the start of the 1990s, RWE committed itself, with a high level of financial investment, to the development of a sodium-sulphur battery, but this failed to live up to expectations.

Up to the end of the 1990s, RWE continued to test various industrial electric cars and propagated their use in the municipalities supplied by RWE via consulting and hire purchase offers. A good ten years later, the electric car now finally looks poised to achieve its market breakthrough.