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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 runs mainly along regional lines, is a particular area in which environmental and industrial interests clash. It divides metropolitan mayors, Bundesländer and the Federal Ministry of Economy. Disagreements are not determined by party divisions – for example the opinions of some Green politicians match those of Conservatives and LibDems. Questions about how to change the sector are increasing.
Whereas on a municipal level, German cities have started to discuss diesel bans and speed limits to tackle air pollution, the states that manufacture cars prefer voluntary software updates and other repair-oriented ways to protect the industry. This is also the case at federal level.
In their election manifestos, almost all German parties mention emission trading schemes (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-fuelled traffic will become more expensive, mainly affecting commercial traffic and individual commuters.
An overall ban on combustion engines is possible. At present, only the Green Party is advocating such a drastic measure from 2030 onwards, while some EU neighbours have already agreed concrete exit dates. In terms of taxing and incentive schemes, party manifestos are vague. The Greens want a bonus-malus system based on individual exhaust fumes. Germany’s LibDems reject this idea as they are against meddling with markets. The new 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 such as hydrogen and fuel cells. In any case, successful implementation depends on the charging infrastructure. Unanswered questions here include who builds the stations, who pays, and will new business models emerge for filling stations, municipalities, platforms and car manufacturers that involve cooperation with utilities? Commercial transport questions and concerns include the future of liquid gas use in trucks, and how much road traffic be should be redirected to rail.
Autonomous driving remains to be discussed, and a regulatory framework to be developed. For the Social Democrats and the Green Party, change in 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 benefit public transport and 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 municipalities 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. So far, only the Green Party is calling for radical changes. At EU level, discussions about ETS, the CO2 price, speed limits and a ban on diesel vehicles are taking place.
To implement major modal shift, there needs to be significant growth of rail-based 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 the energy and mobility markets will be more closely connected, creating new 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 this process.