Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, Duisburg-Essen University
Sweelin Heuss, Managing Director, Greenpeace e.V.
Ralf Pfitzner, Head of Group Sustainability, Volkswagen AG
Hans-Jürgen Jakobs, Senior Editor/Handelsblatt author, Handelsblatt

With its formula of pointed statements in a cosy atmosphere, the Fireside Chat on the opening night of the Handelsblatt Auto Summit was both informative and entertaining. The exchange was opened by Greenpeace CEO Sweelin Heuss.

Asked by moderator Hans-Jürgen Jakobs whether after so many lavish successes, the automotive party was now over, she returned the ball thankfully and landed a verbal direct hit: “Actually, the party got out of hand. It’s degenerated into coma drinking, and now we’re off to rehab.” Ralf Pfitzner, head of Group Sustainability at Volkswagen, was relaxed about the upcoming withdrawal from fossil fuels: “I drive an electric car and I’d never go back. Beyond legislation and regulations, I’m convinced the market will decide. And the tipping point, the switch to e-mobility, will come much sooner than expected.”

The participants were unanimous on the prospects for ICEs, which Ferdinand Dudenhöffer summed up neatly in one word: “Zero.” One reason was that falling battery costs meant it would soon be impossible to build diesel cars cost effectively. It was important to have a fixed exit date for decarbonisation. For Greenpeace, that meant no new registrations of combustion engine cars from 2025 on. Calculating backwards, Ralf Pfitzner said: “If we’re serious about the Paris Climate Agreement and capping global warming at well below 2 degrees, there cannot be any more combustion engines in 2050.” When VW weighed up the technology alternatives, he continued, battery electric had a clear lead. “At the end of the day, electrification is best in terms of both energy and ecology.”

So is everything OK? Not at all – both Sweelin Heuss and Ferdinand Dudenhöffer accused politicians of serious omissions. “There is still no real climate policy!” Heuss said. Even automotive expert Prof. Dudenhöffer, who frequently criticises the industry, believes a large part of our current dilemma is due to the actions – and more still the inactivity – of the Federal government. “By passing laws with loopholes that encourage people to overstep the line, it laid the foundation for our present situation.” Ralf Pfitzner disagreed and expressed penitence instead. “Cheating didn’t happen because of wrong laws. VW has learnt a very expensive lesson here.” His pledge for the future: “We do not tolerate fraud.”

Dudenhöffer and Heuss emphasised that political clemency was not doing the auto industry any favours. “The industry is driven by what’s happening globally,” Sweelin Heuss said. In future, cities and entire countries would not allow combustion engines. Yet the German auto industry had only heard the wake-up call after China announced its electric car quota, which took effect in early 2019.

Can the People’s Hybrid outlined by ZF boss Wolf-Henning Scheider be the solution? “Interim yes, long term no,” said Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, and made an amusing comparison: “Nobody walks around wearing a belt and braces at the same time.” Finally, Ralf Pfitzner pleaded for a more tolerant view of the mobility mix in future. Bus, rail, car sharing, bicycles, autonomous ride hailing … there was a solution for every need.

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.