VDA General Assembly in Berlin – electric mobility and digitization as megatrends – German automotive industry pursues path of innovation
“Today we can imagine that in 2025, 15 to 25 percent of new passenger car registrations worldwide could be electric vehicles. The trend is accelerating – just a short while ago experts thought a share of only 3 percent was more likely,” stressed Matthias Wissmann, President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA). He was speaking to more than 300 high-ranking representatives of the automotive industry at the VDA’s General Assembly in Berlin. He explained that in recent years the German automotive industry had already invested 14 billion euros in electric mobility, and with 30 electric models in series production it was currently one of the world’s leading providers of electric mobility.
Wissmann added that electric mobility was an important component for achieving climate targets and for reducing emissions of pollutants and CO2, if energy policy follows developments. That would apply both for passenger cars and for commercial vehicles.
Yet Wissmann expressed firm views regarding the current political discussion, “in which the calls to ban combustion engines are becoming louder.” He said that “during recent months the debate has concentrated on diesels, testing procedures and pollutant figures. But the call for a total ban on combustion engines has not been thought through. They will still account for a major proportion of powertrains in use in 2030. Therefore this is where the greatest leverage exists for a significant CO2 reduction. And so we also want to use this contribution to climate action.” Furthermore, the combustion engine could in fact be climate-neutral in the medium and long term – by using synthetic fuels. Their future value, Wissmann said, was being emphasized both by the EU and by the German Government – with good reason.
Today the great majority of cars on the roads were powered by gasoline or diesel. Both types were becoming ever more efficient. “In the last ten years the average fuel consumption by newly registered passenger cars in the EU has been brought down by over one quarter, and CO2 emissions have fallen in parallel. The potential has not yet been exhausted. We expect that in the next few years we can increase the efficiency of gasoline and diesel vehicles by at least another 10 to 15 percent,” Wissmann underscored, adding: “We don’t yet know which powertrains will become established in which regions or at which time. Therefore all the manufacturers need the complete range including good models with hybrid and electric drives just as much as efficient diesels and gasoline-powered vehicles. Our common aim is to contribute to reaching the EU’s climate protection targets. Here the policy-makers are called on to create smart regulatory conditions so that environmentally friendly overall solutions will have a chance on the market.”
This also applies to the EU’s discussed “post 2020” CO2 regulation, Wissmann continued. “The existing regulation methods must be reformed for future approaches. We don’t need any stricter regulations. Our manufacturers are already at the forefront when it comes to developing climate-friendly powertrains,” he stated. The transport sector in Germany and Europe was making a considerable contribution to reducing CO2, which was set to increase in the coming years.
Wissmann underscored, “With the 95 gram target that the EU prescribes for new passenger car registrations in 2020/2021, it is pursuing the world’s most ambitious climate protection strategy. Our aim is to continue developing what we call the two-pillar approach and give it a firm footing. On the one hand it envisages technical measures within the vehicle for achieving another reduction in CO2 emissions, but on the other the upstream chain will not be relieved of its responsibility: where and how will the various fuels be produced and deployed, and what is the individual customer’s driving style?” Wissmann pointed out that the “Integrated Approach” of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) was a similar way forward.
Alongside reducing CO2 emissions and ramping up alternative powertrains, Wissmann also went into detail on improving air quality. In particular the Real Driving Emissions (RDE), which supplement the laboratory test, will bring about a marked reduction in pollutant emissions in real driving conditions from 2017 onward. The RDE test will be performed under all external conditions, with any acceleration, outdoor temperature, wind conditions and traffic situation. Wissmann underscored, “The current RDE draft envisages very tough conditions and limit values. We support this, but also appeal for the requirements to remain practicable in terms both of time and technology.”
Emissions of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which still exceeded the EU-wide limit value at some roadside monitoring stations, could be remedied by the rapid introduction of Euro 6 passenger cars and with RDE, Wissmann said, and continued: “In fact penetration by Euro 6 vehicles would be the most effective option for making large reductions in NOx emissions. In addition, immediately practicable traffic-based measures help achieve smooth traffic flow‚ for example the ‘green wave,’ cutting the amount of traffic searching for a parking space, and replacing older taxis, buses and other municipal vehicles with the latest models.”
To publicly accentuate the industry’s important forward-looking topics even more, the VDA has launched the “Mobility of tomorrow” initiative. One of its components is a series of events, the first of which will be “A discussion with Dr. Dieter Zetsche (Chairman of the Board of Management at Daimler AG)” on October 6, followed by a dialog with Dr. Volkmar Denner (Chairman of the Board of Management at Robert Bosch GmbH) and Prof. Stefan Bratzel (University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach, Director of the Center of Automotive Management, CAM) on November 2. Wissmann emphasized, “Our goal is to bring manufacturers and suppliers, scientists and politicians together at one table and to discuss together the preparations for the future. The success of the events shows that we are offering an important format at the right time.”
Moreover, Wissmann said, the German automotive industry was working intensively on new mobility concepts that also generate totally new business models. “This trend arises from a rapidly changing expectation on the part of customers, who no longer demand just a product, but instead a mobility service,” Wissmann said. “In addition, completely new players are appearing on the market, such as large IT corporations. We take this challenge seriously, and are also tackling it. The German automotive industry has expertise that has been built up over a long period of vehicle development. Combined with the intensive research and development activities in the fields of digitization and connected driving, we don’t have to worry about the new competition. We, the automotive industry, are aiming to be right at the forefront of developments. Young technology firms and business start-ups can help here, because they can work in a more experimental and risk-oriented manner.”
Wissmann went on to say that the VDA had started some initial projects to encourage cooperation between business start-ups and the automotive industry. He said, “In this way we are pursuing the goal of creating space where networks can be built up. For the small and medium-sized firms in particular we see a good opportunity here for sharing information and views within this framework and establishing new forms of cooperation. We want to continue on this promising path. Our objective is to learn from one another in order to meet our customers’ mobility needs.”
Digitization and connectivity were found throughout the automotive industry, Wissmann said. “We are right now experiencing the much-cited ‘disruption’ of established business models. Data is the new oil. But nobody really knows yet exactly how it should be collected. The pump has reached the end of its useful life, and now many players are drilling in the same hole and all of them want to profit from it. For us however, the following aspects must always have top priority: vehicle safety, product liability, data protection and IT security.”
Wissmann drew a successful conclusion concerning the passenger car markets: “Last year the German OEMs pushed up their global passenger car production to a new record of 15.1 million units. For the first time in ten years, domestic production showed stronger growth than foreign production, namely of 2 percent to 5.7 million units.”
The major markets in China, Western Europe and North America also continued to expand in the first half 2016. Wissmann stated, “The number of jobs in the German automotive industry rose in Germany to a regular workforce of over 800,000. The automotive industry remains a decisive factor for employment in Germany.”
The German commercial vehicle manufacturers also benefited from the strong Western European market in 2015. Sales of heavy trucks rose by 14 percent to a good 259,000 units, with growth in the first half-year of 2016 coming to 16 percent. “In Western Europe around 50 percent of new trucks bear a German badge,” Wissmann said. The German manufacturers of trailers and bodies also enjoyed success in 2015, increasing their sales by 6 percent to 10.4 billion euros. He emphasized, “The German suppliers rapidly continued their internationalization. Last year they had 3,000 locations worldwide – an increase of around 700 locations since 2010. The 100 largest suppliers in particular are every bit as international as the manufacturers.”
The overall political situation was not making things easy for the German automotive industry on some international markets, Wissmann declared. Following the Brexit referendum, the European Union was not only facing fundamental political questions, but also had to make new economic preparations. According to the VDA president, the same applied to the discussion on free trade agreements: “Another time, we cannot allow negotiations to drag on like they did with CETA. Therefore we should now review the decision that trade agreements can be submitted to all EU Member States for a vote. Otherwise, in the long term we will become unpredictable and thus unattractive for our trading partners. It has always been the EU that is responsible for trade policy issues. There is too much at stake here: credibility, responsibility and jobs. Above all we have to ensure that the ‘European Union’ as an institution does not suffer any more damage.”