ElringKlinger AG

Staying Mobile in the
Face of Climate Change

Tomorrow’s Automobile
in the Eyes of the younger Generation

The CEO of ElringKlinger AG, Dr. Stefan Wolf, in a discussion with students from the graduating class of Münsingen High School in Baden-Württemberg on the significance of the car for today’s youth, alternative drive technologies, and what is expected from environmental politics.

The latest cylinder-head gasket from ElringKlinger passes through a lot of hands

Wolf — When I finished high school, it was very important for me to own my own car. Is that still the case for teens today?

Student — Right now, a car isn’t even an issue for me personally. After I finish high school, I’m going to study in a large city where I will be using public transportation. But later in life, especially if you move out into the country, you’ll need to have your own car.

Wolf — In a large city, you can definitely rely on car sharing if you need to. You can simply book the car over the Internet using a membership card or a code and later just park it in any parking spot available.

Student — Sure, but this only works in metropolitan areas. A car is also a slice of individual mobility, especially later if you have a family.

Wolf — When I talk with young people in emerging countries such as India, China, or Brazil, the car is a very important status symbol. Is that still true in Germany? Aren’t young people more interested in iPads and other technological gadgets than in cars?

Student — All I can say is that I would love to have a trendy car with a rolled-down window, and music so loud that my ears ring. Among young people, whoever drives an awesome car is still admired.

Student — That might be true for some teens, but many are more pragmatic when it comes to the subject of cars. For a lot of teens, it’s simply a matter of getting from A to B.

Student — I think the main reason a car is important for most people is mobility. In my opinion, having a car as a status symbol is more important for people like managers or politicians. For a majority of people, this is playing less and less of a role.

Wolf — If you consider environmental protection and the risks of climate change, what kind of drive technology would you buy? Could you see yourself buying an electric car or a hybrid car?

Student — If I were to buy a car, then I would choose a hybrid vehicle. A purely electric car just doesn’t have a far enough range for me. If I am on the road and the power runs out, then I can drive the rest of the way using the combustion engine. But, the hybrid car should really be affordable for everyone.

Wolf — At ElringKlinger, we are already mass producing cell contact systems that are used for lithium-ion batteries. These are then installed into purely electric vehicles.

Student — I’ve already talked to my family about it. We can only imagine having an electric car as a second car because of its limited range. But the cars are still too expensive for this. A second car should actually cost less than the main car.

Student — Another problem is the infrastructure. I live in the Swabian Alb and there are not very many charging stations for electric cars. I’m sure more people would buy electric cars if the infrastructure was further along and if charging the car would be less expensive.

“For price reasons alone, cars with combustion engines are still important today.”

Wolf — That‘s the problem we are having today with alternative drive concepts. They are still too expensive. Suppose you had the choice between a car with an alternative drive that emits far less CO2 and other pollutants, but is about 5,000 euros more expensive, or a normal vehicle with a conventional combustion engine that is optimized for consumption but still causes somewhat more pollution. Which car would you choose?

Student — I would take the car with the conventional combustion engine. Right now, price is a major factor for me and modern combustion engines also need a lot less fuel than the previous engines.

Student — Even though environmental protection is definitely an important issue for me, 5,000 euros is a lot of money in any case.

Student — That’s exactly the point. I must honestly admit that the question of cost plays an important role for me. This is true for many young people my age and certainly for many people with low incomes. Cars with combustion engines are indispensable because they are cheaper.

Student — Despite their problems, alternative drives are an important topic for our future because oil is becoming increasingly scarce.

Wolf — That’s true, but the point in time when this will occur is still being disputed. I can still distinctly remember the oil crisis in 1972. At that time, there were car-free Sundays for several weeks in Germany. I thought this was a great idea because you could ride your bike on the freeway. In the magazines, there was talk of an end to the oil reserves in 40 years. This number “40” has stubbornly stuck around until today – only the period has now been postponed by 40 years. Regardless, the fact is oil production has become more expensive. This is why ElringKlinger and other companies are working diligently to reduce fuel consumption, so that driving a car is less harmful to the environment but still remains affordable.

“Electric cars make sense only if the electricity comes from renewable sources.”

Student — From a global perspective, the auto industry is expected to have tremendous growth over the next several years, particularly in China and India. This is the reason we need energy-saving and low-emission vehicles right away. And it‘s not just the cars that emit CO2. I am talking about the industry in general, and ships – they are also powered with diesel.

Wolf — I agree. In fact, it falls short to place just the automotive industry at the heart of all our energy-saving efforts. There is also a considerable amount of potential for reducing emissions in other industries and, in some of these industries the effects would be even greater. The environmental platform “atmosfair.de,” for example, has calculated that a nine-day trip with a cruise ship releases around 2,370 kg of CO2 per passenger. This is more than one driver produces in a whole year. Pollutants, like particulates and nitrogen oxides, are also often blown freely into the air.

Student — Someone should write to the cruise ship operators and complain about the high level of pollution. Then, maybe they would start to use alternative drive technologies and exhaust filters more often in the future.

Student — Aren’t there any technological solutions to these problems?

Wolf — There are. By using exhaust aftertreatment systems, such as particulate filters, you can achieve a lot in this area. We’ve worked hard over tst 15 years to reduce the emissions of nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and particulates in automobiles and trucks through the use of catalytic converters, SCR systems, and particulate filters, especially in Europe. Not just the shipping industry, but also other industries still have to catch up. This is why ElringKlinger is strongly committed to the field of filter technology for ships.

Student — I think it’s a good idea that the car industry is taking a leading role in energy efficiency. Maybe then, at some point, other industries will follow.

Student — I am also a little skeptical when it comes to the use of clean energy for electric cars. Today, this energy often comes from coal-fired power plants. Electric cars only make sense when the electricity comes from renewable sources.

Wolf — In evaluating the environmental impact, it’s always crucial to consider the overall energy balance. In the production of electric cars, higher energy input is often needed and this also means more CO2. From an ecological point of view, it might make more sense to drive a car with an efficient combustion engine.

Wolf — What is your general impression of the automotive manufacturers and of the supplier industry: Is there enough being done to reduce pollutants? How do you see the future role of the automotive industry in Germany?

Student — The automotive industry is extremely important to our economy. The development of new technologies offers Germany tremendous opportunities as a location. There are a lot of people working in the automotive industry.

Wolf — That’s correct. In fact, there are more than 750,000 people employed at automotive manufacturers and suppliers.

“If you want to see a change in climate protection happen, you really have to start with yourself.”

Student — This is the reason we should continue to support the automotive industry. When new ideas and technologies that support sustainability come from this industry, the entire economy benefits and more jobs are created. This is especially important for young people.

Wolf — If it’s worthwhile to develop and implement an environmentally sustainable concept, then politics should set the right tone.

Student — Even though we’re doing a lot for economic development, we’re still not doing enough to protect the environment. My suggestion for the automotive industry and for politics: Young people under the age of 25 should receive an environmental bonus when buying a car with an alternative drive, or when purchasing one with very low CO2 emissions. This bonus should compensate for the price difference compared to vehicles with a traditional combustion engine or at least lower the difference.

Student — Another politically-related idea: The government could build charging stations, buy electric cars, and offer these cars at a discounted price for leasing or as rental cars.

Student — Generally, I wish that there was a better plan in place for the energy revolution. We’re lacking the right concepts. For instance, if the wind energy produced in the north doesn’t reach the south because the power lines are missing, then that’s really a reason to feel annoyed.

Student — Climate protection can only be carried out on a global basis anyway. It’s great if we can introduce environmental zones in the cities of Germany, but if, at the same time, coal-fired power plants are still being built in China, then, in the end, not much will have been achieved for the sake of the climate.

Wolf — That’s exactly how I see it. We must keep the global perspective in mind. It’s great if Germany is thinking ahead in terms of technology, but when other countries don’t follow its lead towards environmental protection, we have a problem. Fortunately, there are many countries making considerable progress. There are now not only stringent emission standards in China, but also in countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand. What’s important is that reducing emissions is tackled across industries.

Student — Everyone should start with themselves and lead by example. Even without electric or hybrid cars, you can do a lot to protect the climate. For example, you could start going by foot or use public transportation instead of taking your car on your own for every little drive.

Wolf — Let’s dare to take a look at the future. Which type of drive will dominate Europe’s roads 10 years from now? The electric car, the fuel cell, or an optimized combustion engine?

Student — In large cities, I think there will be a lot of electric cars since the infrastructure will be better in those areas. Outside of the metropolitan areas and in the countryside, I think they will tend to have more hybrid cars and fuel-efficient combustion engines. And, if we end up having a lot of bad luck with the climate, then we’ll turn to boats.

A relaxed atmosphere – even though they weren’t always of the same opinion

Student — If electric and hybrid cars don’t become much less expensive and the problem of range isn’t solved, then I am a little skeptical when it comes to alternative drive technologies.

Wolf — Finally, I have a personal question for you: On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 means very important and 10 means unimportant, how significant is the subject of climate protection for you?

Student — If I were asked, then I would answer with 1 or 2. But if I really thought about it, then I would have to say that, on an everyday basis, the level would be more between 5 or 6.

Student — Since I have little influence as an individual and don‘t really have the means to change anything, the importance of climate protection for me personally is between 5 and 6.

Student — The value would be between 6 and 7 for me. Companies often completely throw away parts of machinery or waste from production that is no longer needed. Consumer waste goes into an incinerator – forget about sorting. Why should I make the extra effort on my own?

Student — As a society, this attitude doesn’t get us any further. If you are really interested in seeing a change in climate protection happen, you have to start with yourself.

Wolf — A fitting conclusion. Thank you for an honest and compelling discussion and for the suggestions you have given me along the way.