The Germans and their cars - a great love story. Christoph Reimann interviewed the futurologist Stephan Rammler in Deutschlandfunk (August 2017).
Rammler can only guess about the origins of the Germans' love of cars. The car was invented in Germany, there was strong propaganda for its use during the Third Reich, and car-friendly political policies after World War II have extended up to the present day. Rammler states that we have designed our environment according to the requirements of the automobile. In this way, we have created a "golden cage of automobility". It is certainly the case in the modern era that Germans almost irrationally identify themselves with their vehicles.
Rammler answers the question “In this era of emerging cultural change in the way we perceive automobility, why are SUVs and large cars still preferred?”, with the simple statement, "Because we can". He concedes that this is understandable in rural areas where there is less provision of public transport. However, in urban areas, it seems particularly inappropriate to drive large SUVs. There is evidence that status-consciousness plays some role, perhaps along with concerns about increased safety. A change of mentality is, however, necessary considering clogged up cities, lack of parking space, bad air quality and nerve-wracking traffic congestion. Is politics mainly responsible for solving this or does the consumer him/herself need to change their mentality? Rammler states that all parties are responsible - consumer, industry and politics in equal measure. He emphasizes that no party should be forced to either give up something important to them or modify their behaviour. Rather, all participants need to understand that the transformation of mobility is indispensable. Sustainability, digitalization and urban transformation increasingly require a change in attitude. Automobility in Germany is characterized by three main factors:
- the combustion engine,
- the vehicle as property, and
- driving oneself rather than being driven.
And it is precisely these three elements which are responsible for the dramatic global changes nowadays. Electric cars, in particular, are being adopted in China, Silicon Valley and within the financial investment industry. If mobility is to be sustainable, it must be driven by "post fossil" vehicles and the combustion engine has to be abolished. From 2025, combustion engine vehicles should not be registered any more. From 2035 onwards, there should be no more combustion engine vehicles on the roads in order to reach politically-agreed climate goals. But this is not enough, we also have to transition more and more to sharing schemes and increasing bicycle usage in order to reduce the total number of vehicles on the road. Changing to electric cars is not sufficient. This whole process will take a long time and must, therefore, be started as soon as possible.
The city of the future needs to continue networking the existing modes of transport if these goals are to be achieved. Politics has a responsibility here. Projects are already underway, but they have to be continued effectively. Cities like Copenhagen demonstrate that it is possible to link public transport with bicycle fleets. Rammler thinks, however, that since the Germans love their cars so much, it might take 10 to 20 years before there will be any significant change.