Sometimes big things are best explained in small ways. “I should also lose a few kilos, but I just like to eat too much,” says Martin Daum, head of truck manufacturer Daimler Truck, describing the dilemma many German companies face on the way to climate neutrality. He is convinced that they all want to become sustainable, and that everything is technically feasible, but the implementation doesn’t really want to happen that quickly. For his industry, the automotive industry, Daum can also name the reasons why many customers are clinging to diesel, which is unhealthy for the climate, and are not switching to clean electromobility.
There are electric trucks, they are also sold, but demand is still manageable because they are very expensive and there is no charging infrastructure. Service areas in particular urgently need high-performance charging stations. “But then you quickly reach 20 megawatts, i.e. in the high-voltage range – and you currently have to reckon with a planning time of ten years.” In addition, too much money is still being pumped into old technologies by the state, so diesel fuel is still subsidized from taxes. A reason for Daimler Truck to prefer to invest where electromobility and its expansion is being promoted much more than in Europe: in the USA. At the SZ Economic Summit in Berlin, Daum indicated that the company’s first battery factory would therefore be built in America rather than in Germany.
Sabine Nallinger from the Climate Economy Foundation calls what she sees in many companies in Germany a “toxic uncertainty”. According to Nallinger, the business representatives who have organized themselves in the foundation to protect the climate complain about one thing in particular: “It is not clear at what speed politicians want to move forward.” However, the companies need binding announcements, such as: How much renewable energy will be available next year or in five years? And at what cost? Nallinger is convinced that the strategies for a sustainable future have long been firmly established in the economy. And yet many are paralyzed because they lack planning security.
Vinzenz Pflanzen, a board member at the Sixt car rental company, can describe how the company is inhibiting. The business with shared cars is particularly sustainable, not only because it is the “gateway drug to electromobility”. A sharing vehicle could also replace 20 private cars, says Pflanzen. And yet the pure car sharing business is not yet profitable at the moment. But instead of making it a bit easier for companies like Sixt to quickly put many shared electric cars on the road, the government will cancel the electric premiums for commercial buyers from September 2023. Sixt only keeps its rental cars for a short time, but then competes with state-subsidized private cars in terms of prices on the used car market. According to Pflanzen, this means: “We would then have to make the use of e-cars so expensive that it actually no longer works.”
So the will is there, but can it really be that so little is progressing in German companies? That the framework conditions make it almost impossible to be sustainable and successful quickly? It’s not that difficult, says Stefan Klebert, head of the GEA Group, one of the leading manufacturers of machines for the food and beverage industry. “A lot is due to engineering performance,” he is convinced. The German mechanical and plant engineering sector in particular has enormous potential to become a global pioneer in sustainable production with innovations – for example machines that consume significantly less energy by using waste heat.
But for this spirit of innovation to also reach the company, the managers have to set a good example. At GEA Group, Executive Board salaries are therefore linked to sustainability goals. For years, only purely electric cars have been used as company cars. Even if Klebert admits: “It’s not like every manager says: hurrah.”