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It is clear that Germany needs to discuss a new framework for mobility as well as individual transport habits, going far beyond a sound strategy to cope with ‚Dieselgate‘. The Diesel controversy which mostly runs along regional lines, serves as a catalyst where environmental and industrial interests clash. It is dividing metropolitan mayors, Bundesländer and the Federal Ministry of Economy. Disagreements are not determined by party divisions, e.g. opinions of some Green politicians coincide with those of Conservatives and LibDems. Questions about how to transform the sector are increasing.
Whereas on a municipal level, German cities have started to discuss diesel bans and speed limits in order to tackle air pollution, the states that manufacture cars prefer voluntary software updates and other repair-oriented ways to protect the industry. So does the federal level. In their election manifestos, almost all German parties mention ETS and CO2 prices as major means (see also: The German general election 2017 - parties‘ manifestos – Energy) to be introduced. Should the costs be passed on, diesel-fired traffic will become more expensive, mainly affecting commercial traffic and individual commuters. An overall ban on combustion engines does not seem to be out of the question. At present, only the Green Party is claiming such a drastic measure from 2030 onwards, while some EU neighbours have already decided upon concrete exit dates. In terms of taxing and incentive schemes, party manifestos are vague. The Greens call for a bonus-malus system based on individual exhaust fumes. Germany’s LibDems reject this idea as they are against meddling with markets. The freshly minted car toll might face swift extinction as most smaller parties are against it.
E-mobility is an important topic everywhere. The CDU aims to develop Germany’s leading role in battery cell production. The Social Democrats and Greens, however, remain open when it comes to technology (e.g. hydrogen and fuel cells). In any case, successful implementation depends on the charging infrastructure where major questions remain unanswered: Who builds the stations? Who pays? Will new business models emerge for filling stations, municipalities, platforms and car manufacturers that involve cooperation with utilities? Questions also abound in terms of commercial transport: Is liquid gas going to fuel lorries in the future? To what extent shall road traffic be redirected towards tracks?
Autonomous driving remains to be discussed and a regulatory framework to be developed. For the Social Democrats and the Green Party, the transformation of the system includes e-mobility and targeted incentives to reduce the total number of vehicles. The Conservatives and LibDems, on the other hand, are strictly against such state interference. Things are similar in terms of speed limits. The coming legislative period could become beneficial for public transport. All parties mention the need for more support.
So far, a systematic strategy on how to shape the mobility sector’s transformation is lacking. Major negotiations between manufacturers, companies and the local municipal level are imminent. In addition to a Diesel strategy, decisions on the respective future shares of individual and public transport will need to be taken. In their election manifestos, the Conservatives and LibDems sound friendly towards the automotive business. Sor far, only the Green Party calls for radical changes. At the EU level, discussions about ETS, the CO2 price, speed limits and a ban on Diesel vehicles are taking place.
Now, to really implement this modal shift, there needs to be a major growth of rail-bound transport and e-mobility. New challenges, new opportunities: Traffic electrification will need almost up to 1,000 terawatt hours annually – more than Germany’s current gross electricity generation. In the future, energy and mobility markets will be connected further, creating novel mobility offerings, business models and market agents. The changes in the mobility sector will be profound, and it will be up to a new government to initiate that process.