Just as the last strains of the Gospel song faded into history, a burly man turned to the person sitting next to him and whispered: I read something about you in the newspaper – why don't we give it a shot! Four weeks earlier, Volkswagen dealer Wolf Warncke told the weekly German newspaper “Die Zeit” that he could imagine an electric-car rental service for rural areas in the German state of Lower Saxony. Now returning back to the packed choir concert, where the country doctor Traugott Riedesel was seated next to Warncke and both began to develop the preliminary ideas for a project that has all of the ingredients to create a pioneering mobility solution outside of metropolitan areas: cars available at a moment's notice, environmentally friendly drive systems and voluntary participation.
Fast forward to today, two years later, Warncke, Riedesel and three kindred spirits they found along the way are operating a service in which six e-Golfs can be rented for a small fee in the Tarmstedt district, a collection of small towns near the northern German city of Bremen – each car is in a different location and is operated at the expense of the five parties involved.
Volkswagen dealer Warncke obtained the vehicles through a funding project that offers low leasing rates. He also rents out an e-Golf himself. In addition, he has set up a CCS fast-charging station at the dealership. It can charge a battery by up to 80 percent in just 20 minutes. Free green power produced by the regional energy provider EWE is used to charge the batteries.
The partners of the car dealer Warncke and the country doctor Riedesel include the regional church official Claus Wahlers. In his old farm in the village of Bülstedt, Wahlers is standing at a window and gazing at the charging station that he set up together with a a local electrician. “I really enjoy getting new projects off the ground. After all, I’m more of a doer than a talker,” he says.
An old Passat is parked next to the e-Golf in front of Wahlers' door, to ensure that he can always rent one of the cars. “My best customer is one of my tenants who works at the University of Bremen. When she needs a car, she just posts a message in our Whatsapp group and picks up the key at the house,” he explains. She receives a bill from him once a month.
Wahlers has also installed solar cells on the roofs of his farm, and these units produce the renewable energy used for this car sharing project. “My goal is to produce my own power and to be as independent as possible from grid operators,” he says. For the trips Wahlers makes each day, he has easily achieved his independence with the e-Golf: The car has a range of up to 190 kilometers. Wahlers uses less than half of it for his daily commute to Visselhövede and back. In the evening, the car loads up for the next journey.
Just a few kilometers away in Wilstedt. In Traugott Riedesel's doctor’s office, the staff is getting ready for the afternoon's patients. An employee calls the patients waiting to see the doctor, prepares prescriptions and answers the phone. What’s special: Appointments are given not only for medical examinations, but also for the two e-Golfs parked outside. “We don't have any train service and the next bus stop is in a neighboring village. Therefore, it is really hard for the elderly to get to the city to see a specialist,” Riedesel says.
To solve the problem, the physician started the car rental; however,the service is not restricted to patients only. “We want people who live in the country to be just as mobile as people who live in the city. That's why our e-cars may be used by anybody who needs one,”says Riedesel, who also serves as the mayor of Wilstedt on a volunteer basis. A special shuttle service that has been added to the car-sharing project enhances the quality of life in the area: Through a hotline opened last summer in City Hall, the town arranges for volunteers who can do such jobs as drive the elderly to stores or medical appointments in an e-Golf. While a fee is charged for use of the vehicle, everything else is free of charge.
Looking back, Volkswagen dealer Warncke can hardly believe what has evolved from a newspaper article and a concert visit in just two years. “I am really happy that we have had such a positive response to our electric car sharing program. Apparently, there was a big need here, but we didn’t have the right way to meet it,” he notes. If the project continues to thrive, additional improvements could be made – including a smartphone app that could be used to book a car.
Warncke acknowledges that the car-sharing program has not generated any profits for him or his partners. But that is no reason to abandon it. Warncke says: “As an entrepreneur, I have to expect that people’s needs will change. Not all of us can or want to buy a car, but everybody wants to be mobile. I have to offer the right solution to meet this need. I’m no longer just a car dealer. I’m now a mobility provider.”
Text: Ralf Blasig
Photos: Kai-Uwe Knoth
e-Golf: The vehicle has not yet gone on sale. It does not yet have type approval and therefore Directive 1999/94 EC does not apply.