Low-carbon mobility will create both challenges and opportunities

Reducing the climate impact of cars in Germany can be achieved while boosting jobs and growth, but several important challenges must be overcome along the path to this objective, according to a new report launched by the ECF on October 12th. The project was conducted over 18 months with input from Germany’s car manufacturers, parts suppliers, energy sector, infrastructure providers, unions and civil society, and was underpinned by economic analysis by Cambridge Econometrics.

The analysis showed that progressively switching mobility from imported petroleum-based fuels to domestically produced electricity and hydrogen would deliver a net economic benefit for Germany. However, achieving this goal would require significant investment in renewable energy; vehicle charging infrastructure; upgrades to the grid; and adjustments to skills and training for the workforce. During the next decade, while hybrids and plug-in hybrid cars dominate, auto sector employment was found to remain stable, but after that auto sector workers will face transitional challenges, due to the ramp-up of electric cars envisioned in the project.

“This evidence helps chart a pathway for Germany to meet its climate commitments on transport,” said ECF Managing Director Christoph Wolff. “The objective must be to maintain the climate goals while keeping the auto sector in the lead of the technology race and strengthening the wider economy. Continuing the status quo will lead to a weaker auto sector and an unstable climate. A comprehensive approach towards climate protection in transport has the potential to put Germany on the road to a triple win.”

Almost 100 people from industry, politics and civil society attended the launch of the report in the dbb forum, Berlin. Four people who participated in the project were invited to reflect upon its findings.

Christian Brunkhorst of the union IG Metall highlighted the challenges ahead: “If the German car industry misses to adapt accordingly, this will have enormous consequences for jobs and the economy.” At the same time, he said, the transition will eliminate some types of auto sector employment while other types will change dramatically.

Daniel Lautensack of ABB pointed to challenges around infrastructure: “The expansion of charging infrastructure must keep up with the e-mobility market growth. This includes charging stations as primary infrastructure, but also power grids as secondary infrastructure. The building of new power lines across Germany has to significantly accelerate.”

Philipp Ellett of the German auto industry association VDA said: “No one from the car industry wants to fail the climate targets.” He highlighted the need for technology neutrality: “All possible climate technologies must compete with each other, in a level-playing field on the market. This especially includes synthetic fuels, which have not been analysed in this study.”

Dietmar Oeliger of the environment group NABU stressed that “All in all, the study shows that the transformation to low-carbon cars can be beneficial, as it does not mean the end of Germany as industrial location, or the end of German car manufacturers.”

Those reflections were followed by a panel discussion of Annalena Baerbock (Greens), Kirsten Lühmann (SPD) and Henner Schmidt (FDP) on how politics should pave the way to bring out the potential of low-carbon cars.

  • The summary of the report is available here (English).
  • The technical report is available here (English).