Chief of Staff of the German Chancellery Peter Altmaier (CDU) and Gunnar Herrmann, CEO of Ford Germany, spoke about the future of the internal combustion engine and the current state of electric mobility.
German automobile manufacturers are developing zero-emission drive systems with a great deal of commitment. Fuel cells, hydrogen, electrification and climate-friendly fuels – they are doing research in all of these fields. The shift to green technologies is moving forward step by step. The discussion which took place within the framework of the lecture series of the “Mobility of Tomorrow” initiative focused on this exciting transitional period. At the opening of the event, Matthias Wissmann, President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), hinted at the transitional nature of the next few years, predicting “the internal combustion engine will be around for a long time to come”.
Conventional engines are better than their reputation. The measures taken to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels are proving to be effective. “With regard to air pollution control, an enormous amount has been accomplished”, stated Gunnar Herrmann, Chief Executive Officer of Ford Germany. “It is possible to make a diesel vehicle eco-friendly.” According to Herrmann, the diesel engine has a great future ahead of it, since it could become even more efficient and carbon-neutral using synthetic e-fuels. Thanks to high-performance particulate filters, diesel cars emit practically no fine particulate matter today.
Peter Altmaier, head of the Federal Chancellery, made it clear that for him, there is no alternative to electric mobility in the long run. “If the German automobile industry does not roll out an electric mobility solution, it will be overrun by others”, the CDU politician said. The discussion made it clear that there will be no silver bullet.
The former Federal Minister for the Environment compared the transition from the internal combustion engine to electric drives with the transformation which has taken place in the lighting industry. “There are still areas in which the incandescent light bulb is needed, but the triumphal march of LEDs started long ago.” Ford Germany CEO Herrmann countered, saying that it was not that simple in the automotive sector. He explained that exhaust purification was a “significant cost factor”, but stated reassuringly: “We have instructed our engineers to do everything technically possible to reach zero emissions.”
Both decision-makers viewed the lack of consumer acceptance caused by the high prices and low range of electric vehicles as a great obstacle for electric mobility. Ford, which is the top seller of hybrid vehicles in the USA according to Herrmann, will concentrate even more on the development and production of plug-in hybrid cars and trucks in the next few years, and successively add fully electric models to its range.
Together with plug-in hybrids, electric cars currently comprise about one percent of all new-vehicle registrations in Germany. The government and the automotive industry are funding a cash incentive with 3,000 euros for plug-in hybrids and 4,000 euros for vehicles powered by batteries. Altmaier made it clear that further state subsidization should not be expected quickly. “What counts now is that the new models that have been announced reach the market”, he said.
Gunnar Herrmann pointed out that policymakers expect quite a lot from the manufacturers. This is because the automobile manufacturers will be made responsible for building and maintaining charging stations for electric mobility, much like the oil companies are for gas stations today. He pointed out that the industry already goes far beyond its core business. It has been doing more than just selling cars for a long time, and is currently preparing the construction and maintenance of charging stations. This summer, a joint venture consisting of BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen, and his company will begin the construction of fast-charging stations along German highways: “This is the first step toward a comprehensive network of charging stations. We want a fully integrated approach, which means that the infrastructure necessary for electric cars must be made available to their buyers. We are investing in this very heavily.” Another important issue is defining common standards such as the plug types. For Germany and Europe, this joint venture is an important step in making electric mobility much more attractive for customers in the future.
Herrmann further stated that extensive talks concerning potential cooperation are being held with grid operators and electricity service providers. Altmaier offered to be a mediator for the automobile manufacturers, and announced plans to make electric mobility as well as domestic battery research/production a priority on the political agenda of the coming legislative period.
Regardless of political developments, business models at Ford and other manufacturers will continue to change in the coming years. The Cologne-based company no longer sees itself only as a car manufacturer. “We want to position ourselves as a comprehensive mobility service provider”, Gunnar Herrmann announced. Herrmann welcomed what Altmaier was asking of the automotive industry. He explained: “We need consistent and intelligent networking of all means of transportation.” This garnered him an appreciative nod from Peter Altmaier.
Yet despite the minister’s admonishments, he is not worried about Germany not being a leading automobile nation. The automotive industry will also master another challenge of mobility transition: saving jobs. About 800,000 people are employed by manufacturers and suppliers in Germany. “We Germans build the best cars in the world”, said Altmaier. “This contributes to eagerness for innovation, preserving jobs and even creating new ones.”