"An electric car is more sustainable and more cost-effective than a conventional car"

The company founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors Josef Brusa was once ridiculed for his ideas, but today his convictions and solutions have become a part of everyone’s day-to-day mobility. BRUSA supplies its highly efficient components for electric vehicles to automotive industry giants such as BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen. Some insights and outlooks from a sustainability pioneer.

Buchs SG - 30.04.2022

Josef Brusa, founder of BRUSA and a sustainability pioneer
Photo: Michael Buholzer. ©BRUSA

Josef Brusa, how did you become a pioneer in the field of electric mobility?

After completing my studies at the NTB Interstate University of Applied Sciences in Buchs, it was clear to me that I wanted to pursue not only an interesting but also a meaningful line of work. It was in the 1980s – in the wake of the oil crisis and the Club of Rome ‒ that the climate topic began to emerge. That’s when I decided: This is where I want to make a difference.

At that time, you focused on solar cells and raced a solar-powered car in the Tour de Sol from Romanshorn to Geneva. However, solar cells on cars never caught on.

That’s true – the concept wasn’t suitable for everyday use back then, and it still isn’t today. Cars simply don’t have sufficient surface area. Moreover, nobody really wants to park their car in the blazing sun. That’s why solar cells belong on rooftops. On private homes and company buildings. Twenty square metres is all it takes to power a car all year round.

Subsequently, with BRUSA, you focused on electric propulsion. Why?

The efficiency of the electric motor is sensational. It is many times higher than that of a combustion engine. Even in the 1990s, electric motors already featured efficiency levels of well above 90 percent. The combustion car transfers less than 20 percent of the input energy onto the road.

Which components does BRUSA develop and manufacture?

Broadly speaking, we are involved in all vehicle components that are subjected to high currents and where electrical energy is transformed. This includes, for example, motors and voltage converters. But also charging devices with plugs and inductive charging solutions. In addition, we produce a range of components for hydrogen vehicles, such as converters and inverters.

So, is there a bit of BRUSA in every electric car?

From a genetic point of view, I guess the answer is yes. In the 1990s, our movement was ridiculed and we were labelled as crackpots. But we were able to demonstrate that electric mobility works. We pioneered this method of propelling vehicles. Our research and development results are reflected in all electric vehicles, even in the Tesla, although we do not supply any components to the company. In addition, all electric cars in Europe have a Type 2 connector, which we helped develop. Today, this connector is used to charge all electric cars in Europe. So yes, a little bit of BRUSA Elektronik AG can be found in every electric car.

Are you still convinced that all new cars will come with a socket by 2025?

Yes, this is still my premise. And by 2030, the vast majority of new cars sold will be fully electric. However, it will take a little longer before combustion cars disappear from the roads altogether. It makes little sense to scrap virtually new cars, even if they still run on diesel or petrol. But the resale value of these vehicles will drop dramatically because no one will want to buy them anymore.

What makes you so confident?

For one thing, I am far from the only one who sees it this way. Demand for diesel cars has already declined in the wake of the diesel emissions scandal. As a result, fewer diesel cars are being produced, which will make production and ultimately the cars themselves more expensive. Batteries for electric cars, by contrast, are becoming ever more affordable. The tipping point will come when the purchase price of an electric car drops below that of a conventional car. What is more, an electric car is simply much more fun to drive and it’s also much easier to operate.

You actually argue that an electric car is already more economical than a fuel-powered car, you just have to calculate correctly. Could you please explain the maths?

Various manufacturers already offer a range of electric car models that are more economical to operate than a conventional car, starting at an annual mileage as low as 20,000 kilometres. This threshold will continue to fall, and in just a few years, electric cars will be more cost-effective in all car segments and annual mileages.

For people who drive more than 40,000 kilometres a year, a Tesla is cheaper than a conventional car in the same class. Perhaps not if you only consider the purchase price. But if you factor in maintenance and operating costs, it turns out to be more economical. Servicing a combustion engine costs a lot of money every year, whereas an electric vehicle only needs to be serviced every two years. Tires are the most expensive item with an electric car.

My own Tesla has already clocked up 170,000 kilometres. Nevertheless, the costs for charging the battery while on the road have so far been in the lower three-digit range, in spite of increasing electricity prices. Had I driven a conventional car, the fuel alone would have cost a five-figure sum. With the ever-rising prices of raw materials, the advantage of the electric vehicle becomes obvious.

We should also factor in the finite resources and their often long and controversial transport routes. I mostly charge my Tesla at home using electricity generated by solar panels. The experience of being able to produce energy for the car myself from a sustainable source and not having to import it from conflict zones is virtually priceless.

Are low operating ranges and an underdeveloped charging infrastructure still arguments against electric cars?

No. The latest electric cars can travel between 200 and 400 kilometres on a single charge. This lasts most people several days. People often overlook the fact that you usually charge an electric car every day. You start with a full battery every morning.

And who actually drives 500 kilometres in one stretch? There are just a few remaining gaps in the charging network and the infrastructure is being rapidly expanded throughout Europe. If you drive long distances, you simply have to take your breaks at the right spots. There you can charge the battery in the time it takes to drink a coffee.

Anyway, you should normally only charge the car on the road to the extent required to get you to your destination. You can fully charge the battery again when you arrive. It is also no longer true that there aren’t enough charging stations. There are currently some 60,000 public charging points throughout Europe. The expansion continues at a rapid pace. We have already taken our own Tesla to Scotland, Portugal, Morocco and the North Cape, and we never failed to find electricity.

What do you think about retrofitting conventional cars with electric drives?

Not much. It’s simply too inefficient. It’s along the same lines as planting trees to help the climate instead of stopping burning down the Amazon and other forests. Today, 95 percent of new cars sold still have combustion engines. Improving this ratio is much more effective than converting individual cars.

The political will to reduce CO2 is clear. Where should we focus our efforts to achieve the reduction targets?

First and foremost, sanctions backing up Swiss carbon emission regulations, such as those that were imposed on the automotive industry at the beginning of 2020, should now be strictly enforced. If a car manufacturer’s vehicle fleet exceeds the target value of 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre, importers of cars have to pay a penalty of 100 Swiss francs per gram in excess of the limit. This means that if the average for the manufacturer’s fleet is 100 grams, they have to pay a penalty of 500 francs for each car they sell. If they sell 100,000 cars in a year, this amounts to 50 million Swiss francs. Such sums make a dent in earnings and constitute a strong incentive. We need similar legislation for buildings.

But the real disruption stems from technological developments. In ten years’ time, a system consisting of photovoltaic energy, wind energy and batteries will be able to reliably supply electricity for as little as 3 to 5 centimes per kilowatt hour. That is so cheap that no other type of power plant will be able to compete.

What do you think of subsidies?

We should move away from them. Especially when the wrong things are subsidised, such as the coal industry in Germany. Instead, I am in favour of temporary incentives for new technologies, such as when the cost-covering feed-in remuneration scheme (CRF) for renewable energies was first introduced. In addition, the electricity market in Switzerland, which today is only partially liberalised, should be liberalised in such a way as to facilitate the resale of excess solar electricity in the local neighbourhood. This would arguably contribute to an increase in the production of electricity from solar energy. Another problem I see is the powerful fossil fuel lobby. This industry has a turnover of two thousand billion Swiss francs a year and makes billions in profits. However, from an ecological point of view, it should be abolished. But multinational oil corporations won’t give up their source of income without a fight.

That’s understandable, who would want to give up their income?

This is why we need a fundamental change in society. First, we need to understand the difference; that we don’t need an income, but rather a livelihood. The constant striving for growth is poisoning the climate. Our economy is driven by employment, not by needs. The result is that we are constantly forced to produce more, even though we long since have enough. Our universities still teach students that the economy needs growth. We have to break free from this conviction.

But the population is also growing. Isn’t our whole system geared towards growth?

If we compensate efficiency gains with growth instead of labour reduction, we will definitely not achieve the climate goals. The EU has set itself the target of becoming completely climate neutral by 2050. How is this supposed to work in practice if we do not radically shift our mindset and act consistently? The bottom line is that we need a shrinking economy – fewer jobs for the same output, meaning that the higher effectiveness would eliminate the need to cut back our standard of living. But first we have to create acceptance for this mindset. It would be wonderful if universities started to develop theories for a shrinking economy. The topic would make for some very interesting doctoral theses. To solve this problem, a well-designed basic income is a suitable tool. Some people will once again ridicule me for this idea. But I’m used to this – and I’m convinced that the time will come when people will see things differently. /bhp