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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Are Current Transport Policies Enabling the Full Environmental Benefits of Electric Cars? — Exploring the Gaps Between EU and German Electric Vehicle Policy and Potential Greenhouse Gas Emission Savings

As the only sector in Germany which could not decrease greenhouse emissions compared to 1990, the transport sector in Germany faces massive challenges to meet national and supranational climate targets. In this context, electric vehicles (EV) are widely considered to be an integral part of future mobility systems and their potential to reduce transport emissions is acknowledged across the political spectrum. This thesis investigates whether current EU and German policies exploit the full environmental potential of EVs and how policies might be amended to strengthen the climate change mitigation impact of EVs.  

To answer this question, academic and grey literature was reviewed to identify the CO2-intensive parameters of EVs. Having adopted this technical perspective, current regulations and policies were analysed using primary and secondary literature to test whether these parameters are addressed appropriately. Both the technical and regulatory findings informed the generation of initial policy proposals, which were subsequently discussed with experts. Using a grounded theory approach, iterative amendments of the proposals in parallel to the interview phase improved the proposals’ quality and real-world relevance. Four representatives each of the automotive industry, policy-makers and researchers were interviewed. For the sake of reproducibility, interviews were transcribed and analysed using a descriptive coding method.  

The results of the technical lifecycle analyses indicate that vehicle weight, source of electricity, battery size and chemistry, and vehicle utilisation are pivotal parameters. Moreover, it is shown that current European and German regulations focus on increasing the EV adoption rate, but they do not differentiate between varying environmental performances of EVs and therefore miss emission reduction opportunities. To reduce this regulatory gap, four policy proposals (PP) were developed: the Modification of the EU Emission Standard Regulation (PP-1), the Introduction of a Bonus-Malus Registration Scheme (PP-2), the Overhaul of the Existing Road Tax System (PP-3) and the Overhaul of the EU Battery Directive (PP-4). An overwhelming majority of the interviewees (90%, or 9 out of 10 experts) acknowledged a need for regulatory action. Assessing the proposals’ GHG impact potential and the likelihood of political consideration, it is finally concluded that future efforts should be streamlined on PP-2 and PP-3 as they combine both factors most promisingly.  

This dissertation fills a well-defined gap in the academic literature by combining a technical perspective with systematic policy analysis and broad stakeholder engagement. As members of all stakeholder groups have demonstrated interest in this dissertation’s findings, a shortened version of this document will be distributed for further external development. Moreover, it is planned to make this work accessible by publishing it in an academic journal. 


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.