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Silently through the countryside

Silently through the countryside

Is e-mobility only suitable for short drives in town? The Maribondo da Floresta foundation in provincial northern Germany shows that this isn’t the case. We visit an extraordinary business empire.

Erwin Bienewald is the managing director of the charitable foundation Maribondo da Floresta. In 35 small businesses, Maribondo employs people with disabilities or mental illness

Our trip out to visit Erwin Bienewald takes us past wind turbines and cornfields. He has set up the headquarters of his business empire in a decommissioned department store in Osterholz-Scharmbeck, near Bremen. It’s not just the location that is unusual for a company’s headquarters. For the 35 small businesses belonging to the charitable foundation Maribondo da Floresta, the focus is not on turnover and profit but on providing job opportunities for people with disabilities or mental illness. Managing director Bienewald values sustainability. “We want our work to be as climate-friendly as possible,” he says.

In order to move closer to this goal, Bienewald had the roof of the old department store fitted with solar cells. As soon as the clean energy started flowing, he began to switch the vehicle fleet over to alternative drives. Six of the 35 cars are meanwhile powered electrically. There are five wallboxes and a fast charging station in the courtyard. “By no means are all the drivers enthusiastic about this,” Bienewald admits. Their greatest concern is that, somewhere on the open road, the battery could go dead with the next charging station to far away. In order to get the drivers on board, Bienewald equipped each electric car with a portable wallbox and 30 meters of power cable, which means that in an emergency the battery can be charged at any mains power connection, for example at a gas station or at one of the Maribondo businesses. “But that has yet to happen. The cable is just for reassurance,” the managing director explains.

Early in the morning, Wolfgang Brinkwirth loads up the e-Crafter with goods to deliver to a canteen, a village shop and a residential home
e-Crafter: Electricity consumption, kWh/100 km: combined 21.54; CO₂ emissions combined, g/km: 0; efficiency class: A+

Wolfgang Brinkwirth has been committed to electric vehicles from the start. He used to operate earthmovers and diggers; now he drives an e-Crafter1 for the foundation. Before sunrise, he loads up the vehicle with food to deliver to a canteen, a village shop and a residential home. “I like how it accelerates – it has a lot of power,” Brinkwirth says about the e-Crafter. However, other road users have to get used to how silent the e-vehicles are. “They don’t hear us,” Brinkwirth says with a grin, as a moped rider appears in front of the Crafter. Gently, he takes his foot off the gas and drives past, leaving a good distance between them.

Carrying together, chatting together

Wolfgang Brinkwirth’s morning rounds take two and a half hours – with occasional time for a chat: “I like these tours. You get into conversations with lots of people whom you would not meet otherwise,” he says

The tour is 70 kilometers long. Brinkwirth unloads muffins and butter cakes, takes sodas and eggs from the car. The saleswoman at the village shop is already waiting urgently for bread rolls when he parks the car in front of the red brick building. A few kilometers further, at the residential home, a young man helps him to carry in the crates of bottled water – allowing him some time for a short break and a chat. “I like these tours. You get into conversations with lots of people whom you would not meet otherwise,” says Brinkwirth.

After two and a half hours, Brinkwirth drives the e-Crafter into the courtyard of the old department store again. The display shows over 100 kilometers of remaining range. That would be enough to do the same tour again. Brinkwirth’s trips incidentally demonstrate that e-mobility can work very well in the countryside, as well.

Responsibility for 350 people

As well as the e-Crafter, the foundation deploys five e-Golfs2. These are used, for example, by managing director Bienewald when he checks in at the Maribondo businesses to make sure everything is in order. The foundation employs over 350 people in food markets, large canteens, a bakery and a leisure center with 14 bowling lanes. Traveling between the individual businesses is the order of the day, which means that Bienewald is on the road a lot. “The electric cars give me the feeling that my driving is not causing any pollution,” he says. He is not at all worried about the vehicle’s range during his tours in the surroundings of Bremen.

A total of five e-Golfs and one e-Crafter are deployed at Maribondo. The foundation has saved around 27,000 euros in fuel costs alone, thanks to the e-vehicles and the photovoltaic plant
e-Crafter: Electricity consumption, kWh/100 km: combined 21.54; CO₂ emissions combined, g/km: 0; efficiency class: A+, e-Golf: Electricity consumption, kWh/100 km: combined 13.8 – 12.9; CO₂ emissions combined, g/km: 0; efficiency class: A+

“With the electric vehicles, we drive over 100 kilometers per day and per vehicle on average,” the managing director reports. So far, Maribondo has saved around 27,000 euros in fuel costs alone, because the electricity comes from their own photovoltaic plant. The charitable foundation uses the money saved for new projects. The repair costs for the e-vehicles are also low, he says.

The new projects include three hotels, which Bienewald wants to acquire as soon as possible to expand this unusual business empire. As a service, he would like to offer the guests rental electric cars. “Then they can arrive in a climate-friendly way by train and also avoid CO2 emissions during their stay.” The only problem is that, before the service can start, the fast charging stations that are planned will need their own transformer stations. “The normal power grid would be overburdened,” says the managing director.

Bienewald wants to use even more e-models for the daily tours, too. On his wish list: an electric vehicle which combines a sufficient number of seats with a generous loading area. Bienewald says: “Then we would only be buying e-vehicles. And I am convinced it’s the same for other facilities for people with disabilities.” 

Range of selected electric vehicles:

e-Crafter: up to 173 kilometers (New European Driving Cycle NEDC)
e-Golf: up to 233 kilometers (Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedure WLTP)
ID.33: up to 420 kilometers (special edition ID.3 1ST)

Fuel consumption

1 e-Crafter: Electricity consumption, kWh/100 km: combined 21.54; CO₂ emissions combined, g/km: 0; efficiency class: A+
2 e-Golf: Electricity consumption, kWh/100 km: combined 13.8 – 12.9; CO₂ emissions combined, g/km: 0; efficiency class: A+
3 ID.3: The vehicle is not yet available for purchase in Europe