Germany sees significant rise in number of SUVs on roads

Although heavily criticized, SUVs (sports utility vehicles) are also growing in popularity in Germany, with over a million registered on roads this year. We look at the debate surrounding them.

Germany sees significant rise in number of SUVs on roads
A range rover on the road as thousands of people demonstrate against the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt earlier this year. Photo: DPA

SUVs and off-road vehicles divide society: for some, they are senseless fuel-eating street monsters, while for others they are an expression of personal freedom, and more comfortable for driving off-road or with lots of people and equipment. 

But despite all the debates, the sale of SUVs and off-road vehicles is booming in Germany, as figures from the Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) in Flensburg show. 

This year more than one million of these vehicles have been newly registered.

Already in November, there were a total of 1.03 million SUVs and off-road vehicles registered since the start of the year. That’s 18 percent more than in the same period last year. 

By the end of the year, the figure should rise to around 1.1 million. By 2015, the two segments together had only amounted to around 600,000 new vehicles.

‘Tank like vehicles’

Calls throughout Germany grew to ban SUVs from the centre of cities after a 42-year-old man driving a heavy Porsche SUV killed four pedestrians, including a three-year-old boy, and injured five others.

“Such tank-like cars don't belong in the city,” said Stephan von Dassel, district mayor of Berlin-Mitte at the weekend, adding that even a small driving mistake in one poses a danger to people's lives.

READ ALSO: Berlin horror crash prompts growing calls to ban SUVs from city centres

A vigil was set up after the Berlin crash. Photo: DPA

SUVs and off-road vehicles will continue to show the highest growth in KBA's new registration statistics this year. 

With a market share of just under 31 percent in the first eleven months of 2019, they now account for almost a third of new passenger car registrations in Germany.

Classic models, on the other hand, are on the retreat, from small cars to luxury cars. Only the Mini-Vans, Utilities, Motorhomes and Sports Car segments are also growing in popularity – albeit at a slower pace.

“The high pace of SUV sales will continue in the coming years,” predicts industry expert Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, who had already predicted that the million-euro mark would be crossed.

“There is no sign of a trend reversal, as can be seen from a comparison with other car markets,” he emphasizes. “If the SUV segment continues to grow at the high pace of the past 10 years, more than 50 percent of new registrations will be SUVs by 2025.”

Biggest beneficiaries

The biggest beneficiaries of the SUV and off-road vehicle boom in Germany are the German manufacturers and their subsidiaries.

In the first eleven months, VW sold the most vehicles from the two segments in Germany with almost 170,000, followed by BMW with 93,000, Audi with 76,000, Ford with 70,000 and Mercedes with 66,000, followed by Seat Opel and Skoda. 

Since the vehicles are usually somewhat more expensive than comparable classic cars, this is also financially worthwhile for the companies.

“The trend towards SUVs is an absurd aberration in times of climate crisis,” said Ingrid Remmers, spokeswoman on transport policy for the Left (Die Linke) in the Bundestag. 

“Such a vehicle swallows too much fuel, blows out too many pollutants, represents a higher safety risk and takes up too much space on chronically congested roads.”

READ ALSO: Frankfurt car show faces protests over SUVs and climate woes

Stephan Kühn, spokesman for the Green Party's transport policy in the Bundestag, also slammed the boom.

“Car manufacturers who focus their portfolios on such climate killers are torpedoing climate protection,” he said.

“In order to get a grip on the sprawling registration figures for SUVs and off-road vehicles, we finally need a higher motor vehicle tax for heavy fuel guzzlers, with which the purchase premium for emission-free and in particular small e-cars can be counter-financed.”

The German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) defended SUVs.

SUVs are not “gas guzzlers”, they said, but very efficient” and emit only about as much CO2 per kilometre as a medium-sized car. 

“The popularity of off-road vehicles and SUVs is not a German phenomenon, but a global one,” says a spokesperson.

He attributes the high demand to the fact that SUVs have “considerable advantages from the customer's point of view”.

The VDA also stressed that that more customers are turning to electric or hybrid vehicles: “As diesel, plug-in hybrid or battery electric, the SUV makes a considerable contribution to climate protection and CO2 reduction,” they said.

However, despite subsidies, electric cars and plug-in hybrids are still clearly in the minority in Germany. From January to November, 97,301 of these vehicles were newly registered. Only a handful of them them were SUVs or off-road vehicles.

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EXPLAINED: The rules for riding an e-scooter in Germany

The popularity of electric scooters in Germany has exploded in the last few years, but many people still aren't sure what the rules for driving them are. We break them down.

EXPLAINED: The rules for riding an e-scooter in Germany

Germany is currently the world’s second-largest market for e-scooter rental after the USA, which might explain why you have the feeling that you’re seeing the electric vehicles everywhere these days, at least in cities. 

According to a recent survey by ADAC,15 percent of people in Germany aged 16 and over regularly use e-scooters. Of these, 45 percent own their own scooter, while 55 percent rent the vehicles from sharing services.

Here are the rules for driving an e-scooter that you need to know.

Who can drive an e-scooter?

Anyone over the age of 14 can ride an electric scooter and you don’t need to have a driving license to use one. However, many of the traffic rules for motorists also apply to e-scooter riders, and misbehaving on a scooter could end up costing you points on your driving license or even getting you a driving ban.

READ ALSO: Driving in Germany: Eight German road signs that confuse foreigners

Can more than one person ride an e-scooter?

No. Only one person is allowed to ride a scooter and if you are caught riding in two, you will get a €10 fine.

Although it might be fun, riding side by side on two scooters is also not allowed and can be punished with a fine of between €15 and €30. Instead, you and your friends have to ride in single file.

Where can you ride an e-scooter?

E-scooters are principally allowed on bike paths and in bike lanes and you can only drive them on the road if there is no bike lane available. If you do drive on the road, you must keep as far to the right as possible and you are not allowed to ride in bus lanes.

It’s also forbidden to ride an e-scooter on the motorway – doing so will get you a €20 fine. 

Riding an e-scooter on the pavement, in pedestrian-only zones, or in one-way streets against the direction of traffic is also not allowed and can land you a fine of between €15 and €30.

However, e-scooters are allowed on one-way or no-entry roads which have a “cyclists free” sign.

A no-entry sign with a “cyclists free” sign underneath. This sign also applies to e-scooters. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Jens Kalaene

Which traffic light rules apply to electric scooters?

E-scooter riders have to abide by traffic lights just like motorists, and the fine for ignoring a red light on an e-scooter is between €60 and €180.

However, if there is also a traffic light for bicycles, e-scooter riders can follow this one instead.

Is there an alcohol limit for electric scooters?

Yes, the same alcohol limits for motorists apply to electric scooter riders.

This means that anyone who drives with a blood alcohol level of between 0.5 to 1.09 is liable for a fine of €500, a 1-month driving ban and 2 points on their driving license.

It’s a criminal offence to ride an electric scooter with a blood alcohol concentration of at more than 1.1, as is causing an accident with a blood alcohol level of more than 0.3.

Under 21s must be completely alcohol free – with a blood alcohol level of 0.0 – to ride an e-scooter.

Where can e-scooters be parked?

E-scooters can be parked at the roadside, on the pavement and in pedestrian zones with designated e-scooter parking areas. However, e-scooters must be parked in such a way that they don’t obstruct or endanger pedestrians or other road users. 

Parked e-scooters in Stuttgart. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Schmidt

Which rules are there for e-scooter owners?

If you’ve upgraded from renting to owning your own scooter, there are certain requirements you have to be aware of. 

Firstly, it’s mandatory to have liability insurance and a special sticker (similar to a license plate) stuck to the scooter to show that it is insured.

READ ALSO: German words you need to know: Haftpflichtversicherung

E-scooter owners also have to make sure that they have two independently working brakes and lights. 

Which other rules should I be aware of?

As with driving a car or cycling, you are not allowed to use your mobile phone while riding an e-scooter (which is pretty challenging anyway). If you’re caught doing so, you’ll get a €100 fine and a point on your driving license. 

It’s not mandatory to wear a helmet when riding an e-scooter, though it is recommended.