Mobility is facing critical changes worldwide. At one time, it seemed that there was an inexhaustible supply of crude oil and that our planet was indestructible. Today we know better. The German automotive industry has therefore opted for sustainable technologies with the aim of protecting mobility as a “fundamental right”.
The importance of sustainability is particularly apparent during times of crisis. Current problems, such as a shortage in raw materials and the progression of climate change, are all clear signs that the economies will not be able to continue to operate as they did in the 19th and 20th century as they are reaching their limits. Today, sustainable economic management strategies are being developed to continue to secure prosperity. If we look back in history, it is clear that people were affected by similar crises in the past, but they discovered ways of overcoming them. Carl von Carlowitz was the first to formulate guidelines in favour of sustainable economic management in 1713. The crisis scenario of his time was the clearing of Saxony’s forests, which got out of hand. Back then, the ore mines and smelteries of the Ore Mountains required a large amount of wood. Carlowitz drew up some guidelines in support of sustainable forest management, which set out to prevent a full clear-cutting of forests without having any adverse effects on the economy. He believed it was necessary for every human being to respect and care for nature as well as its raw materials. It is thanks to his hard work that today Germany is positioned as one of the countries with the highest proportion of forest land in Europe. This concept, which was first conjured up for the forestry sector during the 18th century, is being acknowledged in the 21st century and carried forward to new sectors. Therefore sustainability is recognized as a starting point for a range of objectives. Long-lasting stable societies can be accomplished by linking together ecological, economic and social aims. The insight which has been gained is that environmental protection will only be actively implemented in our globalised world if the economy achieves sustainable success at the same time.
The industry and the automotive sector are particularly challenged with devising sustainable strategies when faced with the rise in raw material prices as well as climate change. It is necessary that we resort to using oil a lot less in the long run. For this reason, we are intensively dealing with the question of what sustainable mobility will look like in the future and how it can be achieved. In this context, the automotive industry pursues three objectives: environment and climate protection, economic competitiveness and social responsibility. In order to achieve these objectives, the automotive industry firstly is developing alternative drive technologies. The aim is to drastically lower our vehicles’ fuel consumption. A lower or no fuel consumption equates to active environmental protection as CO2 emissions are avoided as a consequence. On the other hand, sustainability on an economic basis means economising so that companies stay ahead of global competition. And finally, the automotive industry is aware of its social responsibility. It seeks to maintain a high level of employment at Germany’s industrial sites.
The automotive industry places emphasis on high investments in research and development (R&D). German manufacturers and suppliers spent 23.5 billion euros on research and development in 2012 alone – an increase of nearly six per cent compared with the previous year. According to the „Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft“ (Donors’ Association for the Promotion of Sciences and Humanities in Germany), the German industry as a whole spent 66.6 billion euros on R&D in 2012. This means that over a third of the research achievements came from the automotive industry. Consequently, we are the number one driver of research in Germany.
However, it is not yet certain what type of drive will prevail in the future. This all depends on the future battery price for electric cars as well as on the development of electricity and petrol prices. As these factors are difficult to calculate, companies are pursuing various technological options. Therefore, companies are directing their efforts towards a multifaceted strategy in order to minimise the risk of unprofitable investments. Under the motto “Save, Add and Replace” research is being carried out in parallel on various drive types. This will ensure that we invest in the drive technology that will ultimately catch on.
It is certain, however, that conventional drive types such as petrol and diesel engines will continue to play an important role in the foreseeable future. According to estimates, at least 80 per cent of all vehicles used in 2020 will be powered by combustion engines. Hence we are also carrying out research on efficient combustion engines in order to cut down on CO2 emissions in the short term. Our manufacturers and suppliers have already made tremendous progress by introducing innovations such as downsizing and direct injection systems.
We are taking a giant step into the future with the development of electric mobility. By the end of this year, German car manufacturers will introduce 16 series models of electric vehicles to the market. But we have only just embarked on this development. There still remains considerable scope for innovation with respect to battery charging stations and battery storage sizes. At the moment, customers are still faced with the extra burden of battery costs upon purchasing, compared with cars powered by conventional motors. Policy makers are called on to take appropriate measures in order to settle these differences. Compensation for the disadvantages suffered by users of company cars with an electric motor is the first step. Further possibilities include special depreciation allowances for electric cars, access to bus lanes or parking benefits in city centres. The battery charging infrastructure must also be optimised.
The achievements already made with regard to the cut-back of CO2 emissions demanded significant financial commitment from manufacturers and suppliers. Sustainable economic success is essential in order to cover the R&D costs. For only if we achieve economic success, the funding necessary for research will be available to us.
This is why the German automotive industry attempted to tackle the new markets early on. In addition to the traditional
automotive markets in North America, Japan and Western Europe, our manufacturers and suppliers today are also active in emerging markets such as Brazil, Russia, India and China. Therefore, the German automotive industry is seizing the opportunities presented in the growth regions.
The international success is predominantly supported by our strength in the premium segment. Around 80 per cent of premium cars sold across the globe originate from German car brands. Germany as a business location is currently benefiting from this unique selling point to a special degree, because only with this high share in the premium segment and an international focus, it has been and still is possible for Germany to maintain a very high level of employment. Despite the shrinking Western European home market, 2013 saw a rise by more than 10,000 workers in Germany, resulting in a total of around 760,000 employees.
The automotive industry is facing up to the challenges of the 21st century. To also ensure future success, we are sticking to our sustainable objectives. For us, economic success and technological, environmentally-friendly innovations go hand in hand.
The author studied law, economics and political science in Tübingen and Bonn. In 1993, he was Federal Minister for Research and Technology; from 1993 to 1998, he was Federal Minister of Transport. From 1976 to 2007, he was a member of the German parliament. Mr. Wissmann has been president of the German Association of the Automotive Industry and vice-president of the Federation of German Industries since 2007.