WOLF — According to the coalition agreement on which the federal state government is based, you intend to speed up the move towards e-mobility and other alternative drive systems. What kind of time frame are we looking at?
KRETSCHMANN — That’s a difficult question to answer. Ultimately, the level of demand for electric cars depends not just on policy decisions but on the extent to which they are accepted by consumers. The fact that electric vehicles have had a rather sluggish start is partly due to the price, but the main factor is the limited range of most models. I am convinced that demand will increase rapidly once our car makers release their new range of electric models. Bear in mind, too, that China is probably about to introduce a minimum quota system for electric cars.
WOLF — The momentum has certainly been there across every social group since autumn 2015. We need to build on it within the automotive and supplier industry and come up with faster solutions to those issues of range and battery capacity. At ElringKlinger, we have spent the last 15 years working on ground-breaking projects to develop new battery, fuel cell, and lightweight vehicle body components. Consistent lightweighting helps to extend the range of electric vehicles and is therefore becoming increasingly important.
KRETSCHMANN — Besides the shift towards electric drives, we have the prospect of autonomous driving, digital networks covering all transport providers, and the so-called platform economy, all of which are changing the way consumers behave. These are radical transformations, and yet here in Baden-Württemberg our value chains still depend very much on the combustion engine. It will be a monumental challenge to shape the transition in such a way as to preserve those value chains and the associated jobs. To do so, we need to establish a strategic partnership that allows policymakers and industry players to work together and continuously influence the process of change.
WOLF — You’re right, although it’s also up to each company to decide for itself how it responds to change in a way that enables it to remain competitive and retain or even create jobs. Ten years ago, for example, we were still generating 80 percent of our revenue from sales of gaskets for combustion engines. Today, that figure is around 20 percent. To bring about that change, we had to invest early in new technology, and we had to wait for that investment to pay off. Today, however, if the industry were to flip a switch and only produce electric cars from now on – admittedly an unrealistic scenario –, then we can at least be confident that our content per car would increase. Having said that, I think it’s right for car makers and industry suppliers to sit down with politicians to work out the best way forward together. We can only maintain our technological edge if we join forces.
KRETSCHMANN — We are at a crossover point towards a new technology. However, that also means our existing technology needs to keep on generating the revenue needed to finance investment in new technology. That is a challenging proposition, in particular for small and medium-sized companies, especially given that we can’t yet say for certain which technology is going to emerge as the winner. There are several possibilities: batteries, fuel cells, third-generation fuels, and the hybrid as a transition technology. However, disruptive developments such as these are always associated with considerable risks. That’s why we need to avoid making new policies which generate even greater disruption on top of that created by those disruptive technologies.