The road to sustainable mobility is still an arduous one: Today’s batteries won’t last great distances and take too long to recharge. But the real challenges aren’t the technological ones, explains Hervé Couturier, head of SAP Research: “E-mobility is not about installing new engines in cars. It’s about tapping existing resources more effectively – cars, sources of energy, roads, parking lots.”
To do this, you first need to understand what’s happening in the cars and in the heads of the people who use them. That’s precisely the aim of the Future Fleet, SAP’s fleet of electric cars, which was ceremoniously unveiled at SAP headquarters in Walldorf, Germany last Friday. The distinguished guests underlined the significance of the project: Henning Kagermann attended in his capacity as the chairman of the German National Platform for Electric Mobility, while Katherina Reiche – parliamentary state secretary in the Federal Ministry for the Environment – was there as a representative of the German government.
Together with its partners – the Mannheim, Germany-based utility company MVV Energie, the Öko-Institut (Institute for Applied Ecology), the ISOE (Institute for Social-Ecological Research), and the Mannheim University of Applied Sciences – and sponsored by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, SAP is dispatching 27 electric cars to the roads around Walldorf. “We are proud to be one of the first German companies to use electric cars,” says SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe, who spoke at the opening ceremony and is impressed by employees’ enthusiasm for Future Fleet: More than 1,000 employees signed up to take part in the project. In the end, 450 were selected according to socio-demographic factors.
Next page: SAP employees participate in trials
SAP employees participate in trials
What the project aims to assess is the contribution that electric cars can make in company car fleets. SAP employees will help answer this question by driving the 27 Stromos to work or during leisure time. The six-month trial involves employees using the e-cars in two scenarios – for business trips and in their usual weekly activities. At a total of 34 charging stations in the area, the “tanks” can be recharged – with electricity from renewable energy sources, of course. Meanwhile, the Institute for Applied Ecology, the ISOE, and the Mannheim University of Applied Sciences are researching the vehicles’ environmental footprint, their acceptance, and user behavior.
SAP developed a software prototype to control the cars’ usage and power levels. Drivers use the software to reserve “their” Stromos, for example, if they have a meeting at another SAP office. The solution ensures that the cars always have sufficient power to reach the intended destination and that they can be recharged on arrival. The charging stations will only supply electricity to authenticated users. In addition, the vehicles can be charged at home using a conventional power socket.
“The project shows that information and communication technology (ICT) must make a decisive contribution to eco-mobility,” said Couturier at the Future Fleet opening ceremony. ICT already connects the components of a car today. In the future, vehicles will pass on all information so that processes can be optimized and resources – especially time and energy – can be better tapped.
ICT is already crucial for all areas, from the gas in the tank through feel-good factors like a correctly adjusted seat, the preferred security settings, the destination defined in the navigation system, and the music library in the stereo system. Couturier is convinced that eco-cars must be user-friendly before they will be accepted by the general public. “This is our key task as a software company,” he says. After all, we’re not just talking about a market, we talking about the future of the planet.
The German government is full of praise for the project: “SAP is the first company in Germany to convert part of its company car fleet to electric vehicles and thus set the course for the future,” says Parliamentary State Secretary Katherina Reiche. “This is an important step. I hope that many others will follow suit soon.”
E-Mobility in Silicon Valley
SAP’s Palo Alto campus is putting 16 charging stations into its parking lot and will offer all employees free charging through 2011. The company has ordered 25 electric cars. The charging stations were unveiled as part of a larger “Energy Efficiency Showcase” in December 2010.” Sustainability makes great sense from a business perspective, and our employees are really excited about it,” said Peter Graf, SAP’s chief sustainability officer. “It’s important for people to see us do this, and it makes us attractive as an employer.”