A conversation with André John, head of the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association's (ZVEI) Mobility Platform
Mr John, there are countless ideas for transport concepts that are both innovative and climate friendly. Nevertheless, it sometimes seems as if there still hasn’t been a major change in the mindset prevailing in business, politics and society. To what extent does this impression correspond to the actual situation? Where do you think we really stand?
I think we’re in the midst of the early stages of a radical change. Just look at the climate targets. We’re talking about cutting the CO2 that Germany is allowed to emit by 2030 by about 65 per cent compared to 1990 levels. This is indeed a very ambitious target if you consider that emissions from transport have actually risen in Germany since 1990. In my view, this and other imperatives have already led to a change in attitude in many industries as well as in politics and society, but we’re still not implementing the changes rigorously enough.
How is the electrical industry shaping the mobility transition?
The German electrical industry is highly innovative and, with up to 12,000 patent applications submitted each year, the sector can claim to have a major influence on Germany as an industrial location. This innovative strength is also impacting the ongoing development of mobility.
With its sensors, actuators, semiconductors and other components, the German electrical industry is responsible for the intelligence behind products employed in new drive systems for both rail and road applications. Among other benefits, innovative semiconductor solutions in the automotive sector contribute towards reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. For example, modern electronics in electric cars manage the battery system and ensure braking energy is recovered, helping to increase the cruising range of electric vehicles.
The e-mobility technology you just referred to will undoubtedly be an important element of future mobility. What other trends have you and your colleagues at the ZVEI (German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association) identified?
In the future, connectivity and digitalisation will make the way we travel much more intelligent, so that the entire flow of traffic can be optimised. There is enormous untapped potential here.
Centuries old and yet one of the means of transport of the future: the railway must experience a renaissance. © Deutsche Bahn/Georg Wagner
In addition, travel by rail will become even more important than it has been in the past. After all, rail is an extremely climate-friendly mode of transport with the potential to make a direct contribution towards climate neutrality. That is why the ZVEI advocates, among other things, that policymakers prioritise the modal shift towards rail. However, enormous efficiency improvements are needed in order to increase the proportion of traffic carried by rail. Digital solutions such as Digital Automatic Coupling or the European Train Control System and digital interlocking technology must be implemented quickly to achieve this. We also need to speed up the readiness for and the roll-out of autonomous mobility on the railways. Technology has already come a long way in this respect.
And, of course, the use of electric cars and trucks is a trend that promotes climate-friendly mobility that’s fit for the future, as long as the method of generation is sustainable.
In short: the future of mobility is electrified, connected and digitalised.
If electrically powered vehicles are the key to climate-friendly mobility, why are people still relatively unwilling to buy them?
E mobility will definitely be part of the climate-friendly mobility landscape of the future. In my view, three things need to happen if we’re to achieve further success. Firstly, sales of electric vehicles must continue to grow – this trend is already clearly heading in the right direction.
Secondly, we must have a charging infrastructure that is both adequate and user-friendly. As we move into the future, no one will want to have to activate the charging points with a multitude of different fuel cards and various billing systems. However, this does not require additional regulatory interventions with entirely outdated, mandatory card payment terminals, but instead a widespread, mandatory tariff-roaming system across the whole of Europe that includes all charging stations in the EU.
The charging infrastructure is about to be expanded on a large scale. © ZVEI
And thirdly, the electricity grids and cars must be interconnected in such a way that the charging process is as simple and efficient as possible.
People are very willing to switch to electric cars – recent studies have shown that over 60 per cent of drivers in Germany would be prepared to go electric now. The choice of vehicles is also increasing rapidly, and developments – especially in battery technology – are extremely dynamic. Decisions at political level must now translate this dynamism and willingness into real change.
Does that mean that it’s the policy framework, rather than technology, that’s the main barrier to the transformation of the transport system?
The technologies required for the mobility transition are available. What’s more difficult is establishing new business models. Not all companies have come to the realisation yet that they will need to enter into new partnerships. However, this is hugely important.
And the right policy framework is truly vital to the success of the transition to a sustainable transport system. For example, as we have been pointing out for many years, changes must be made to tenancy and residential property laws in order to remove obstacles to the installation of charging points. Fortunately, some progress has been made here, but more could be done. What we’re lacking is an expansion of the charging infrastructure in cities and communities. This requires political will in the municipalities and a good level of training and competence in public administration so that this topic can be purposefully accelerated through the bureaucratic system. Funding exists, and there is a willingness to invest.
There are also major regulatory challenges that make it difficult for new mobility concepts to become established. These include regulations concerning the use of data as well as the approval and standardisation procedures for connected and autonomous transport on road and rail. Although legislators in Germany have responded with the Act on Autonomous Driving, more progress is now needed. Companies need planning certainty. For example, we need a new round of funding to support the digitalisation of transport technology at municipal level, similar to that available under Germany’s Clean Air Programme, which has now come to end.
What do you think the mobility landscape will look like in 2050?
We will still travel in 2050 – just differently to how we do today. First and foremost, the way we get around will be smarter and more environmentally friendly. And there will also be urban districts in which the majority of people don’t own cars. Instead, we’ll see a significant increase in new mobility concepts, which will radically change the urban landscape of our car-oriented cities. Against the backdrop of growing urbanisation, I anticipate that public transport infrastructure, such as suburban and underground railway networks, will be strengthened. In these areas especially, the digitalisation of transport technology and the connectivity of vehicles will help transport services to run more smoothly and more frequently, thereby relieving the mobility pressure on metropolitan areas.
Thank you, Mr John, for this most interesting conversation.
André John has been in charge of mobility policy at the German Electrical and Digital Industry Association (ZVEI) since becoming the head of its Mobility Platform on 1 March 2021. Having graduated with a degree in political science, he previously worked for the association as an education policy officer. Between 2017 and 2019, André John held managerial roles in the ZVEI’s policy department and the Berlin office of Germany’s Independent Flight Attendants’ Organisation (UFO).