BMW, one of Germany’s largest auto manufacturers, preached confidence in the transition to electric vehicles during an event this week.

“We understand what the issues are, and we have no question mark when it comes to the Paris accord, nor do we have a question mark that decarbonizing the transportation sector is clearly a target that we should pursue,” said Andreas Klugescheid, head of external affairs and sustainable communications at BMW, speaking at an event affiliated with California Governor Jerry Brown’s Climate Action Summit.   

The world just surpassed 4 million electric passenger vehicles, and German automakers have produced many of them. But plug-in vehicles still account for just about 2 percent of Germany’s passenger vehicles. How swiftly the country can move forward on transportation electrification was one topic tackled during a Tuesday bilateral summit held with California. According to BMW, only 4 percent of sales in its home country are plug-ins or hybrids.

Still, the automaker said the international push toward transportation electrification is clear. This summer the manufacturer announced the opening of a factory in Hungary capable of producing up to 150,000 EVs a year. BMW is also adding EV manufacturing capacity to its other European factories, and said it is working on a slate of new models. One, the concept version of the iNext, will be unveiled this month.  

“It’s something that we are pursuing actively,” said Klugescheid. “When you bring these two worlds together, energy and transportation, when you have that convergence…then you end up with totally new business cases, totally new opportunities.”

As an example, Klugescheid pointed to BMW’s Charge Forward program, supported with a California Energy Commission grant, that's designed to investigate optimized vehicle charging in the state and align it with clean energy production. BMW has also partnered with the Viessmann Group on Digital Energy Solutions, which offers energy management tools to customers including EV chargers and tips for infrastructure planning. 

That attitude, Klugescheid indicated, has pushed BMW to outsell its electric vehicle competitors in Europe. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, BMW's EV sales doubled between 2015 and 2016. About 4 percent of its new cars registered in the EU are electric vehicles, about double the numbers of its second- and third-ranked competitors, Daimler and Renault-Nissan.

Klugescheid also said demand in the continent’s largest EV markets suggests customers want those cars, but also that policy matters in driving the shift. According to Klugescheid, 74 percent of BMW’s sales in Norway are battery-powered.  

“There’s nothing different between Norway and Germany and other countries of the European Union when it comes to the product we’re selling,” he said. “It’s very much the same product, but it has very different outcomes.”

“There are many more opportunities that we already have that are not yet implemented in Germany,” Klugescheid added, like increased public charging infrastructure. He suggested that Germany needs to seize on favorable laws and funding for charging equipment. 

But other German experts suggest that planning roadblocks persist. 

“I think we are not in the phase where we totally understand what to do or what needs to be done,” said Christian Hochfeld, executive director at Agora Verkehrswende, a German think tank which promotes climate-friendly transportation. “I’m a little bit skeptical.”

Hochfeld said he remains concerned about Germany meeting its emissions targets and said the country needs to pursue policies that encourage carpooling and EVs, and should eliminate subsidies on diesel. The country is also considering vehicle emission standards more stringent than the rest of Europe, which has proposed a 30 percent reduction target by 2050. Hochfeld questioned the need for separate standards, and suggested a unified goal would be most beneficial for auto manufacturers.

“You cannot plan your portfolio,” Hochfeld said. “It won’t be good for the customers, and it won’t be good for the carmakers.” 

That’s a battle the U.S. is now waging as well, as President Trump has moved to roll back emissions standards and possibly split the U.S. market if California is able to proceed with more stringent standards. Automakers have expressed angst about upheaval in the U.S., and experts have offered mixed takes on what the move means for electric vehicles