Have the Germans Had Their Fill?
5/30/2022 Future Mobility Interview

Have the Germans Had Their Fill?

In China, standards are being set in E-mobility, autonomous driving and skateboard chassis. And in Germany? A conversation with Franz-Josef Wöstmann.

Franz-Josef Wöstmann, you are head of the Foundry Technology and Lightweight Construction department at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM. How are the Germans doing with their automotive industry?

Franz-Josef Wöstmann: In the rich Western industrialized countries such as Germany and France, people's mentality is changing, especially in large cities. They are looking more and more in the direction of sharing models - not only for cars, but also for the two-wheeler or the scooter, especially for last-mile systems in combination with public transport. In Germany, the change of government in the next few years in particular may lead to regulations freeing cities from existing car traffic, or at least from individual traffic.


E-mobility and the rise of autonomous driving will bring massive changes for established manufacturers and thus ultimately also for suppliers. I discussed how to react as a mono-product manufacturer when your product has a clear end date last week with Beate Voss and Benjamin Großardt from SJM. What is the advance of electromobility doing to Germany as a production location?

Franz-Josef Wöstmann: The problem for suppliers is that many components will change and disappear, especially in the combustion sector. At the same time, other components will come into play, The transmission sector will change massively. How quickly the established suppliers can position themselves appropriately and focus on other components will determine their existence. As a result, we will also see a shift in production volumes towards Asia. Africa will continue to lag behind; in the case of Russia, the question remains as to how the country will develop in terms of the political framework conditions. It is to be feared that there will be a strong closing of ranks with the Asian countries. Should this happen, we in Europe will very likely be left behind.

China has already started to implement the skateboard platform model, i.e., the separation of chassis and passenger cell, in its robotaxis. The Chinese government can basically set up an entire city as a test center right away. This immediately creates a size in production figures that several companies can use to go into large-scale production right away. What does this mean for the progress of the skateboard model?

Franz-Josef Wöstmann: That China is taking over standardization. On the one hand in production and manufacturing, in the interface with the user, but on the other hand also the entire standardization in the direction of autonomous driving. China is such a large market that a standard here will inevitably be set worldwide. It is precisely with this scenario that we fall terribly behind. China then abruptly set the standardization of autonomous driving and individual mobility behavior and with it the possibility to immediately roll out suppliers and producers for the sharing model including all production services worldwide in one go. That will bring big changes for OEMs and suppliers here.

What can we learn from China?

Franz-Josef Wöstmann: In China, the framework conditions are not like in Germany. If you build in China, you don't have to have parking spaces. On the other hand, you can only get a car registered if you can prove that you have a parking space. And if you drive an expensive car, it won't do you much good to brag to the neighbor. Because the parking space for it is two kilometers away. So having your own expensive car doesn't make sense. That's why people have a completely different attitude toward new systems. In Germany, we have a construction method that goes wide, while in China it goes high. Of course, we will have to do the same in the next few years in order to reduce land consumption, but this is already the state of the art in Asian countries.

So the question will be: What mobility service do I offer and how can I get mobility as easily as possible? No matter what kind of car it is, no matter where it is: If I need it, I want to have it. And when I don't need it, I don't want to worry about it anymore. I don't want to rent a garage for it, and I don't want to worry about getting back to my car. The car is bound to come to me.

Franz-Josef Wöstmann: Exactly. In ten years, money will no longer be made on how individually I can design my car, but on how individually I can sell mobility. We do not dare yet. We are very fixated on the idea that our car is our living room, that we can clutter up our car, that we sit in our car and feel at home, that no one else is allowed in here. But as long as we have this thought, our inner cities will not become cleaner and not freer. In terms of production, this will become a disadvantage. 

What is the problem?

Franz-Josef Wöstmann: The motivation to get involved in new things is lacking, especially in Germany. The Germans always want to see that something already works and, ideally, is already being used by three others, but then complain that they are not the first. Unfortunately, this does not work. More entrepreneurship is needed here. Because that's exactly what has been lost in recent years, because we've simply become too full. We have the possibilities. We have the people with the know-how, the training, the skills, and we have the manufacturing capabilities to be pioneers everywhere. We just have to do it. We could be much faster and also better positioned if we only dare to tackle it.

Isn't Dr. Herbert Diess from VW leading the way very quickly and very radically in the direction of electric drives?

Franz-Josef Wöstmann: Yes, but autonomous driving also needs to be tackled more strongly. Here, I am still missing the issue of standardization. Standardization in closer cooperation with specifically urban planning, because vehicle production will change in that we will have vehicle fleets in cities, similar to what we already know today with bicycles. We see yellow, green, orange bicycles standing around in big piles on corners all over Germany. The majority of them come from Chinese suppliers, who within a very short time have set up a bicycle production that covers more than half of the globe, just to roll out bicycle sharing systems as widely as possible. In this case, the motto is: Whoever occupies the most spaces and places the most bikes in cities makes the money afterwards. And the same applies to cars.

But there is also the issue of standardization and certification.

Franz-Josef Wöstmann: And only if we move quickly in this direction will we be able to set up a European standard - deliberately European rather than German, because we need a comprehensive standard - for fleet management and autonomous driving, especially in cities. Then the European manufacturers will also have the opportunity to play right at the front. But they have to break away from the old burdens. And one way to do that is with skateboard solutions. Here, completely new players can enter the market who don't even build cars today. Because the system works completely differently. I don't need vehicles in the city that go 200km/h and are good on the road. I need vehicles that drive 50, 60, maybe 70km/h, that are as comfortable as possible, that are quiet, that can offer a good infotainment system, that have Internet access. These are the topics that will come in the future. And the basis for this is a skateboard such as the one from DeepDrive.

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Corinna Robertz