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In Germany, a different kind of electronic revolution

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Isabelle DePommereau

(Read caption) Electric cars for rent in front of Frankfurt’s train station.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Visitors exiting the train terminals of Europe’s main commercial capitals here can choose from among a plethora of transportation modes to reach their final destinations: cab, subway, tramway, or bike.

In Frankfurt, now they can also rent one of the funky-looking, tiny cars on display outside Frankfurt’s megastation, either a Smart-Fortwo or a Citroën C1. The little vehicles are silent, emit no carbon dioxide, can be recharged right on the train station’s square, and go as fast as 60 miles per hour.

Getting train passengers to use the electric cars is part of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ambitious electric revolution. To cut carbon emissions and lower the country’s oil dependency, the Merkel government last year pledged to put 1 million electric vehicles on German roads by 2020 and 6 million by 2030.

The train-to-electric-car collaboration, known as “car sharing” here, is one of a booming number of pilot projects across Germany designed to spur “electromobility,” from hybrid buses in Hamburg to electric bicycles in Stuttgart. They are helping foster what Andreas Knie, head of the Innovation Center for mobility and societal change at Technical University in Berlin, calls a “new mobility culture.”

“In the future, we’re going to have to get away from the idea that everybody can own their own cars.” says Mr. Knie. “The idea that we use the same car to go to the supermarket around the corner or go on vacation to Italy is an idea of the past.”

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