This week was Handelsblatt’s annual auto summit where the cream of Germany’s automotive crop get together and have a chat. So far, I was surprised to discover Germans are no longer buying cars in droves. That’s a problem for carmakers and the country: The automotive sector is Germany’s backbone. Take, for example, Marina, a 30-year old living in Dresden. She told me she would rather have an iPhone. And the Berliners around me – spoiled by all-singing all-dancing public transport – grab cars from sharing platforms when they need them, to drive out to a lake or move furniture. All over the world, expense and traffic are weighing against the fun and independence of owning a car (I don’t have one but my sister’s is a home-away-from-home – a mobile biosphere of Welsh sand, sweaters and CDs).
Nowadays, 90 percent of Germans see advantages to carsharing. Even Volkswagen engineers will tell you they don’t need a company car. By 2025, 15 percent of cars on Europe’s roads will be shared – not much compared to China’s one-third. For fans of efficiency, that’s pathetic. The 46 million cars in Germany are stationary 23 hours a day. Carmakers meanwhile are investing massively in carsharing, including VW, which wants to enter the market in 2019.
Not only is VW busy shifting gears into carsharing, it’s also ditching diesel and embracing electric. That means investment and since the money has to come from somewhere, Volkswagen just unveiled a steeper savings plan to add €6 billion to the group’s operating profit, all to power electric cars. It’s farewell to the roaring years of the car, but if Berlin and Brussels don’t nudge folk, the transition may be smoggy and drawn out.
For now, Berlin and Brussels are focusing on Russian bots and trolls ahead of the European parliamentary election next year. Moscow’s disinformation juggernaut is mighty. And though the EU and Germany are putting more resources into countering the rich range of lies coming from the Kremlin, they are late to this party. The European vote is less vulnerable to targeted manipulation than national elections, as campaigns run in multiple languages and IT infrastructure varies from one country to the next. Still, the latest falsehoods about the seizure by Russia of three Ukrainian naval ships off Crimea cause worry. An educated public with a healthy distrust may be the goal; it will need money and expertise in the meantime.
The Christian Democrats are in a lather the day before they elect a new leader. While lefties breathe a sigh of relief that “we can hate the CDU again,” the party’s own are deeply worried. It has split delegates who will vote tomorrow into a business wing and a social wing. “Merz or the Downfall,” writes a Handelsblatt journalist who’s behind candidate Friedrich Merz, the German boss of asset manager BlackRock. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, meanwhile, is backed by local groupings and also the economy minister, Peter Altmaier, who rebuked Wolfgang Schäuble for his support of Merz. The party is having a crisis of identity. On Friday we should know whether the party will keep its Merkelian, centrist line or swing right. Healing the split will take longer.
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