Green Or Gone

Germany, Norway, California: How To Boost Electric Car Sales

A new study shows Germany must look for other ways to convince automobile buyers to switch to electric cars. Shall we say: quota?

An electric car factory in Leipzig, Germany
An electric car factory in Leipzig, Germany
Markus Balser & Max Hägler

BERLIN — If you get an electric car in Germany, you will be rewarded with a hefty cash injection: a 4,000-euro environmental bonus has been available for the past three years for every new e-car purchase. But the results of the incentive so far have been disappointing. Many charging stations in cities are still empty. At the beginning of 2019, only 83,200 electric cars were registered in Germany — and the number is growing slowly. Currently, only one out of every 100 new cars sold is powered by electricity. In Norway, a world leader in the energy transition, every third new car is electric.

Why are Germans not making headway in this area that's so important for the climate? Researchers have been looking for answers. In a study done by the Berlin-based Ecologic Institute on behalf of Greenpeace, scientists compare the effectiveness of ten measures that are already being used in different countries. Germany's funding practices do not get a good grade, with the report concluding that financial incentives are not enough in Germany. Instead, fixed quotas for manufacturers should be introduced to make real headway.

Many charging stations in cities are still empty.

"Purchase premiums alone are expensive and do not bring e-cars out of the niche," says Greenpeace transport expert Benjamin Stephan. "CO2 emissions in transport only drop rapidly when climate-damaging cars become more expensive at the same time." In order to reach climate goals, new registrations of cars with internal combustion engine should have to be prohibited from 2025, Greenpeace explains.

The study could also stimulate the debate in Germany. Because the government's climate commission is currently investigating measures on how to massively expand climate-friendly mobility. Their resolutions are due in September.

Norway could serve as a good example, say the scientists, with its mix of funding instruments. Starting with the charging infrastructure, which of course is of central importance. The state should grant even higher subsidies here, as long as electric charging stations are not economically viable. It is also important to sequence the right support measures: Regions and municipalities could release bus lanes or free parking spaces for electric cars.

Charging station in Storgata, Norway — Photo: Worfmann

But such concessions should be limited in time and attract only the e-car pioneers. Because public transport is the most environmentally-friendly way of getting around. Benefits for electric-car drivers should "not be accompanied by a reduction in the attractiveness of bus transport." What is more important, according to Greenpeace, is that the state and administration switch to e-cars for their companies and work vehicles. That would set the right example.

Public transport is the most environmentally-friendly way of getting around.

In a second wave of support, automakers and governments should work together to support cheaper e-cars in particular, via purchase incentives and tax rebates, as is customary in California, while taxing larger burners at a higher rate. This would make e-cars affordable for the middle class and thus increase the number of units. Incidentally, researchers are thus in line with the world's largest car manufacturer Volkswagen, which recently presented a paper making similar points.

No wonder: New cars in Europe will soon be able to emit only 95 grams per kilometer of carbon dioxide on average. This limit will continue to decline. That can only be reached with a considerable number of electric cars, so it is a de-facto electric car "quota." Greenpeace suggests naming it that way — sending a clear and crucial message that society must radically change course.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!