First published in AMS business magazine. Author: Lauren Comiteau

Sander Ouwerkerk is talking to me from behind the wheel of his 2015 black Tesla. The Director of Business Development at The New Motion is travelling down the A4 from Amsterdam to The Hague to talk to policy makers about a greener Netherlands. His fully electric, practically self-driving vehicle is one of approximately 100,000 electric or hybrid automobiles in this country whose capital, Amsterdam, is leading the petrol-free charge into the future.

‘The electric vehicle market is still in its infancy, but in 15 years’ time, all cars will be electric,’ predicts Ouwerkerk, whose company offers charging solutions for electric cars and provides more than 25,000 charging points, making it the most dense such network in Europe. ‘By 2035, the last petrol car will be sold, and the last petrol car will be off the road by 2050.’

The green road ahead

‘The trend today is that usage is more important than ownership,’ agrees Margaretha Gerrits, Location Manager for Car2Go Amsterdam, the electric car-sharing service. ‘And it’s not just for cars; Netflix and Spotify are other examples – having access is the most important thing.’ A subsidiary of Daimler AG, and active in Europe and North America, Car2Go expanded its Amsterdam fleet last year from 300 to 350 Smart electric cars. With the city having the most dense and highly used network of charging stations in the world – some 1,800 at the moment, with an expected rise to 4,000 by 2018 – the infrastructure to go electric is already here. (The city will even install a charging point for anyone with an electric car who does not yet have private access.) Amsterdam is the only city in the world where Car2Go operates with a fully electric fleet.

Art van der Giessen, Project Manager Electric Vehicles for the City of Amsterdam, says that the city’s Amsterdam Electric programme is really taking shape. Last year alone, 8,000 users charged their EVs 50,000 times per month, proof that electric mobility is here to stay in Amsterdam. Clean air is a huge part of the city’s sustainability agenda − Amsterdam recently became the first European city to announce its goal of as much emissions-free traffic as possible by 2025 − and Van der Giessen says they’ll do that through a combination of ‘facilitating, stimulating and regulating’.

Take taxis, for example. These heavy road users, of which there are 4,000 in the city, pollute 35 times more than regular cars. To induce taxi companies to make the electric switch, the city is offering a €5,000 subsidy for every electric taxi purchased. And because every fourth taxi at Central Station has to be a clean one, electric cab drivers are always assured of a fare. There are currently 300-400 electric taxis in the city, a number which Van der Giessen says must double in the next four years if the city wants to reach its 2025 emissions-free goal.

Electric fares

Taxi Electric and BIOS Schiphol Taxi are two companies taking advantage of the city’s incentives. Schiphol Taxi, which has had the airport concession for the past five years, had to include a green aspect in its most recent tender to meet Schiphol’s goal of becoming one of the most sustainable airports in the world. The result? BIOS Schiphol Taxi operates 71 Tesla taxis from the airport and will continue to do so until 2022. ‘It’s not only a result of tendering,’ says Martijn van Leeuwen, Secretary of the Board of the BIOS Group. ‘Company policy is to focus on sustainable operations. The city wants to clean up the air so that it’s a good place to live. Our initiative contributes to that target.’

‘It’s good the city stimulates demand,’ says Ruud Zandvliet, co-founder of  Taxi Electric. ‘It’s a free market, so if you create demand, supply will come.’  Taxi Electric was the first taxi company in the world to introduce a fully electric fleet in 2011, and today it operates 40 Tesla Model Ss and Nissan LEAFs. With its focus on service and social responsibility, Taxi Electric hires drivers over the age of 50 who have difficulty competing in the job market. ‘We want to show that we can do things differently,’ says Zandvliet.

Enter Abel, the electric taxi start-up that launched in the city in January.  Trying to bridge the gap between public transport and taxis, Abel lets you book a seat – as opposed to a whole car – via an app. The more flexible you are, including your willingness to ride with others, the lower your costs. In addition to the electric-car subsidy, Abel’s Operations Director, David Baars, points out that the city is investing in fast chargers that can load an EV battery in half an hour compared to the eight hours it takes traditional chargers to do the job. ‘The city is really thinking about the future, and we want to be part of that,’ he says.

Users big and small

The city’s purchase subsidy extends to other heavy-use vehicles as well, such as delivery trucks. International shipping company DHL chose Amsterdam for its electric pilot precisely for that reason. ‘It’s a very attractive programme,’ says Marijn Slabbekoorn, City Logistics Expert at DHL Express. ‘We want to go electric in all European cities, so we’ll use electric where it’s economically and operationally viable.’ DHL’s corporate responsibility programme aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 30% (vs 2007) by 2020. To that end, they hope to have a ‘multi-model transport system’ of bikes, electric cars and electric boats in use in Amsterdam by next year.

The city also already has deals with public-transport company GVB for emissions-free buses by 2025. Their city ferries are also slated to meet the green deadline, with permits being granted solely to emissions-free vessels by the quarter-century. This applied to those ubiquitous canal boats, too.

Consumers, too, are expected to do their part. Although there are no direct city subsidies for residents seeking to go electric, Amsterdammers will get priority parking permits for EVs. Tax breaks on the national level and cheap electricity add to the incentive. ‘If major cities give the signal, it will give impetus to car manufacturers,’ says Van der Giessen. ‘They are all working on electric cars and, especially with the diesel scandal, they’re doing so faster.’

Just the beginning

For those still sceptical about taking the ownership plunge, MisterGreen Electric Lease offers an alternative. Founded in 2008 as an electric scooter-leasing company, it introduced the first electric cars to the Netherlands two years later and now offers a 95% Tesla fleet. ‘Cost-wise, people are wary when it comes to buying an electric car, but they’re more likely to try it if they can lease it monthly,’ says co-founder and General Manager Florian Minderop. ‘The electric car will be part of the new ecosystem.’ 

Yet all agree that the EV is a stepping stone in the wider transition from fossil fuel to alternative energy. ‘Now, electricity comes from windmills in the harbour,’ says Van der Giessen, ‘but the ultimate goal is to connect solar panels in the city directly to charging stations.’ Which is precisely what these forward-thinking companies and the city are preparing for. On sunny days, surplus energy can be stored in an EV’s battery, which can later be fed back into the grid. And when the batteries get old, they can be repurposed to store and supply power for buildings. Swapping stations − vending machine-like structures that are sold by electric scooter company Gogoro − also pull from the grid when electricity is cheap and store it for later use.

‘Electricity is the patch,’ explains The New Motion’s Ouwerkerk, making a comparison to the smoking-deterrent nicotine patch. ‘Real renewal comes with wind and solar energy. And we need to do it earlier rather than later. It’s like saving for a pension.’ As the EV part of the mobility equation evolves, so is the EV itself. Tesla just introduced Summon, its latest autopilot feature. Ouwerkerk’s Tesla not only drives him down the highway, but it can park itself, too. ‘Autopilot began this process on the highways,’ says Berith Behrens, Communications Manager Benelux for Tesla. ‘Summon begins it in your garage.’  The EV revolution has indeed come home.