Germany’s Auto Industry and the Climate Change Action of Using e-Cars

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“Running On Empty – Will Germany’s Car Industry Survive?” a fascinating documentary that DW Documentary produced and narrated by Torben Schmidt takes a deep look at Germany’s car industry and the challenges it is facing in a new era that sees the rapid emergence of electric cars. 

The documentary investigates Germany’s combustion and diesel technology and whether the industry will survive in the age of rapid electric car production or is it nearing its demise.

DW Documentary (2019) talks about Germany’s success in combustion and diesel engines as a result of more than a hundred years of work and its proud automobile culture.  The documentary showed how Norway is already dishing out fossil-fueled and plans to be fully electric in 6 years time.

It then features China, with its giant market, starting to create electric cars for its people. With a market as big as China, Germany can have a big chunk of the market if it transitions to electric cars, Schmidt’s says.

Schmidt’s narrates how Norway, a country that has become rich in oil is now banning fossil-fueled cars in six years’ time. He says that 65 per cent of new cars sold are electric or hybrid in Norway, comparing it to Germany’s 7 per cent. Schmidt says this happened because of political will.

In Norway, it sees climate protection as an opportunity and not a threat to its economy. It is a leader in electric car infrastructure in Europe and even in the world, providing cheaper public parking, and the use of bus lanes for electric cars.

Charging stations and parking garages are standard. Electric cars are cheaper in Norway because it is exempt from taxes on fossil-fuelled cars, Schmidt says.

In the documentary, Shmidt interviews people from the electric car industry, experts in the auto industry, and former German auto industry executives.

Why is Germany slow to transition to making electric cars?

The documentary claims that some 800 thousand jobs are directly dependent on the auto industry plus many more indirectly dependent and with an annual turnover of over 400 billion euros, are reasons why German politicians have worked hard to avert any threats and protect the auto industry from sudden disruptive change.

Schmidt interviews Karl-Thomas Neumann, a former Opel CEO now currently living in the U.S. to launch his new start-up. According to Neumann, it is hard to give up the success of German combustion technology.  A new mindset is needed to be able to start something new referring to electric car production. He added that lawmakers have to come up with a framework and work with the car industry to make it happen.

Neumann says “jobs will be lost, but new ones will be created and electric vehicles will give rise to new business opportunities but where is this being discussed in Germany or even in Europe? Maybe we Germans simply cannot part with our gas guzzlers yet because they’re our invention and so slick.”

Prof Uwe Canter, explains why is Germany is slow to transition to electric cars. “The danger once you’ve made it to the top and there is a reversal…you get the so-called lock-in the case of the auto industry we are now at the top of our game in fossil-fuelled cars, no one comes close. Stepping out of that comfort zone with other types of engines is associated with very high costs…and that’s called lock-in”.

Germany’s Junior Transport Minister, Stefan Belga says that “we’ve always backed ambitious climate targets…at the European level with our automotive. In my view we should decide in 2019 what transport will look like in 2025 to 2050 years, a lot can develop in the coming years.  When the car industry does well, Germany does well.”

Questions for reflection

What do you think? Should Germans ditch their combustion and diesel engine technology in favour of electric cars to support climate change actions?

And with the new era of electric vehicles, will there be more demands for oil and fossil-fuelled cars in the future?

Watch this interesting documentary and reflect whether it is for Germanys’ best interest to switch to electric car production.

Want to use this work? Please use the following citation:

DW Documentary. (2019, September 3). “Running on Empty – Will Germany’s Car Industry Survive?”. [Video file]. Retrieved from

BACKGROUND PHOTO CREDIT: Volkswagen’s Gläserne Manufaktur in Dresden By Rainerhaufe – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link. The image has been cropped to fit the website’s size requirement.

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