Prof. Dr Günther Schuh and his vision of electric mobility.
There are visionaries. And there are pioneers. What’s the difference? Pioneers are not dreaming of the future, they’re moving purposefully towards it. One such pioneer is Günther Schuh. And not just because, with his height of 2.03m, he is predestined to move purposefully. He converted the entire Deutsche Post parcel service fleet to all-electric vehicles, had his own electric car manufactured in one of the world’s most modern factories – and understands better than anyone else how electric mobility will evolve over the coming years. We caught up with him.
In the place where TVs for the European market were once soldered, bonded and assembled, a minor sensation is now being created: an electric vehicle for short distances – that is easy on the wallet. And that is also made in Germany. Industry 4.0 with its own 5G network and self-driving transportation carriages. A hall full of robots? Not at all. Instead, up to 140 workers in single-shift operation will soon be producing 10,000 cars a year here. This factory was designed and implemented by Günther Schuh, Professor at RWTH Aachen, a university that excels in mechanical construction and engineering. In the spring, the first standard-production vehicles are expected to be delivered to customers. A professor who puts his own research into practice: unusually. But it’s not the first time that our interviewee has gone entirely his own way.
Professor Schuh, anyone wanting to meet you has a choice of at least three offices. One on the university campus, one at the headquarters of your company, e.GO Life, and one in the factory. What exactly are you: a professor or an entrepreneur?
I’m often asked if I prefer being an entrepreneur or a professor. My answer is usually: yes. I like being both. A researcher who wants to implement things and undertake practical work is attractive for students. And vice versa: an entrepreneur who’s extremely interested in theory is usually beneficial, because you can act in a more reasoned and logical manner. And in terms of electric mobility, this is currently in high demand, by the way.
You’ve been able to apply your knowledge in every area of the e.GO Life factory. How is this noticeable?
Just as you’re now doing with the
But what you’re actually producing here is at least as important as the manufacturing conditions themselves. The electric vehicle that you could not find. So you decided to build it yourself?
Of course, I’m aware of the Ferry
The result is e.GO Life.
Exactly. We wanted to build a vehicle aimed very much at the urban market, i.e. a small car with a limited range that is also much cheaper in keeping with its reduced use. At first, no one believed us; sometimes, we didn’t believe it ourselves. But now we’re proud to say: it actually works. What’s really special is that when you drive the e.GO Life around town, you don’t feel restricted in any way. It's just as much fun at traffic lights as a
Another common feature that’s instantly recognisable on the e.GO Life is that it bears a certain resemblance to the 911, especially at the front. Is this a coincidence or intentional?
It’s no coincidence that the front of our e.GO Life resembles the 911. Everyone knows that I’m a
Your relationship with
You could say that. One of my first research achievements was the invention of variant management. And I set up my first company while still at uni. I presented this concept to Wendelin Wiedeking, the former CEO of
You are a Professor of Production Engineering and Production Management. Did
We’re perhaps more of a jump-up than a start-up. Too often, a start-up is used as an excuse for something that cannot be achieved professionally. We won’t allow that. From the outset, our approach has been to act as complete professionals, in all processes, all elements of the car and all safety matters. We also had to grow rather quickly – some think that suits our car's acceleration.
Which brings us back to driving pleasure. What do you think: will the
I know that many people doubt that, because the sensational engine sound is missing. But I’ve been driving electric cars for some time now and know that there’s a good substitute for this. No sound substitute, but the performance of a well-designed electric-powered vehicle has a few fun elements that can easily compete. The incredible torque from the first minute of angle alone is simply magnificent. You can feel this power, this incredible driving pleasure in the
You’re so sure that you’ve secured yourself a deposit option on the
I thought about it during a congress on electric mobility last year, where I saw the
Electric mobility is constantly gaining momentum –
Contrary to many predictions, the car will continue to play a major role. The passenger car will not be replaced by something else on any significant scale. That won’t happen. But what will happen is that we’ll no longer allow ourselves to drive deep into city centres in our individual cars, one per vehicle. This will be impossible, due to gridlock, congestion and emissions.
If we were to drive from Stuttgart to Aachen in an electric vehicle, we’d find far fewer charging pedestals than petrol pumps. Are there sufficient opportunities to charge an electric car?
What the major energy providers have resolved to do, together with the automotive industry, in the next two to three years alone, should eliminate everyone’s concern about not reaching a charging pedestal in time when driving an all-electric vehicle.
And the electricity for these charging pedestals – will our power plants cope with the demand if everyone in the world is driving electric vehicles?
Yes, they’ll cope. There’s no need to worry about that. The energy providers are totally unconcerned that electric vehicles will sky-rocket. They’re really looking forward to being able to sell a little bit more of their sometimes surplus electricity.
The ranges of electric cars are still the biggest reservation compared to those powered by combustion engine. Are the ranges really too short for everyday use?
The ranges that can be achieved with electric vehicles are actually not too short for practical use. But unfortunately, users still believe otherwise. They think they’re insufficient. They’re afraid of breaking down and also of having no reserve range if their destination changes. The only way to counteract this perception is to let people try it out and show them what the usage behaviour is really like.
So in your view, what are the challenges for electric mobility?
My main concern is that as a society, as customers above all, none of us dare to really accept and really develop this change in mobility. I can only say: “Take an electric car for a spin. Give it a try and you’ll see that it’s neither bad nor comical, it’s actually fun.” I’m deeply disturbed that many people think such an electric car is an admission of failure. But it need not be. Quite the opposite: it actually adds an extra fun factor – as the e.GO Life and
Germany is known throughout the world as the land of the automobile. But not in terms of electric mobility. Is this justified?
No, the world's definitive knowledge centre for hybrid electric vehicles is located in Germany. As we speak. We must now make sure that the epicentre of electric mobility as an ecosystem for all-electric vehicles is again created here in Germany, the land of the automobile. And I firmly believe that this will succeed.
Is there room for a sports car in this future vision?
A former CEO of
Between future visions and everyday production in the here and now, one thing has become clear: reason is one of the drivers of the electrification of the automobile – but not the only one. Dreams are just as important. Such as the dream of a production scientist who wanted to show that it’s possible to manufacture an affordable electric vehicle in Germany. Or that of a team of engineers and designers who are reinventing the sports car once again.