Alexander Mankowsky, Futurologist, Daimler AG

“Anyone can read the future,” claims Alexander Mankowsky. He does it full time, researching the trends of tomorrow and the day after on behalf of Daimler AG. So if the Group has its own in-house ‘clairvoyant’, how come German manufacturers’ EVs are coming to market years after Tesla or Renault? “Cultural trends are harder to foresee”, Mankowsky explained, “and they change faster than technological developments.”

Describing his employer’s innovations in the field, he said: “In 2007, we already saw that electric cars were the future.” That was why the Mercedes-Benz A Class was the first car in the world with a sandwich floor to accommodate traction batteries. But according to Mankowsky, that plan was thwarted by political framework parameters that encouraged manufacturers to stick to their old ways instead.

Human beings and their readiness to embrace technology were always the critical touchstone for technical developments, he added – including in companies themselves. For example, the luxurious, self-driving Mercedes F105 study car of 2015 was highly relevant as a research vehicle. But at the time, the bigger picture of what such vehicles could mean for people was still missing.

“I’m missing that in society too at the moment,” the futurologist confessed. “We need an idea of what we consider positive for the future, of where we all want to go.” For Mankowsky, autonomous driving is a good example: “The digital is now physical, it’s becoming real things. And that’s where we can apply our competence very well.” Mankowsky believes technical implementation is just one side of the coin. “We’re facing totally new questions. For instance, how do I make this acceptable at a human level? Vehicles will need to show externally that they’re self-driving. In the autonomous age, the tried-and-tested ‘eye contact principle’ won’t help road users.”

Again, Mankowsky illustrated his ideas with a concept car. “We’ve just presented a cooperative automobile based on an S Class car,” he said. This vehicle informed people of what it planned to do next, mostly via light signals. That would help people grasp autonomous vehicles intuitively and reliably too.

As a visionary, the speaker naturally thinks far beyond the traffic sector too. “Our industry has incredible amounts of expertise. We should start using these technologies for other fields.” Food safety, for instance, had a lot to do with mobility and logistics, and we could certainly use innovative approaches in urban development. Mankowsky’s upbeat credo: “Germany has a lot of competence, and the world has a lot of confidence in us. Now is the time to break new ground.”

Automotive Summit 2018 – Executive Summary

In early December 2018, over 600 automotive experts from all over the world – including manufacturers and suppliers, tech and energy companies, politicians and associations – attended the auto industry summit in Wolfsburg, Germany. From 3 – 5 December, the industry’s big hitters discussed strategies, concepts and technologies for tomorrow’s automobiles and the future course of their industry.

We’ve compiled the highlights from the Handelsblatt Auto Summit 2018 in an interactive follow-up report.