MESSNER — Mass motoring will come in these countries. There is no way of stopping it. The proportion of car ownership may not reach the same level as here, but then, over a billion people live in China. Of course, that will have an impact on the environment, too, and environmental awareness is by no means as well-established in all the emerging countries as it is in Germany and South Tyrol, for example. The cars people buy in China are mostly new and relatively clean. In other emerging markets, however, there are still lots of dirty two-stroke engines around with the resulting impact on air quality. Take Nepal, for example.
WOLF — Countries like India and China will not want to miss out on the development of individual mobility that we have seen here in Europe.
MESSNER — You’re right, they won’t. In China, people want cars as a status symbol or as a way of being mobile. Having your own car quickly becomes part of the whole sense of freedom.
WOLF — So, cars need to be cleaner and produce less CO2 and particulates.
MESSNER — That’s right. At present, though, the environmental debate is largely being framed by politicians and the media. As yet, ordinary people see it differently. It’s obvious. Sales of hybrid and pure electric vehicles are way below expectations because people are simply not prepared to pay 5,000 or 10,000 euros more for an alternative drive. They are waiting for alternative drive systems to be as affordable as normal cars.
WOLF — There has been a major change in the role of the car in Europe – especially among young people. They don’t see it as a status symbol any more but primarily as a means of transport. Do young people have a different take on mobility and will their attitudes towards mobility be different in the future, particularly with greater environmental awareness in mind?
MESSNER — In my generation, we bought our first car at the age of twenty. Our society has enjoyed fifty years of care-free driving. Even in our towns and cities, the car has been right there in front of our house. My kids don’t want that any more. They are much more aware of environmental and resource issues. Many people now live in major conurbations, and they walk or cycle to work or use public transportation. Car-sharing has become fashionable, or you can simply hire a car for a few days when you really need one. Nevertheless, mobility is still a basic desire.
WOLF — If you were to buy a new car in the next three to five years, what would it be?
MESSNER — If there is a car with an effective and reliable fuel cell drive, I’ll try that. That’s been my dream for a long time. The fact that I haven’t got one is basically because there isn’t yet a fuel cell car on the market. I remember one manufacturer back in 1995 promising that we would all be driving around in fuel cell vehicles within five years, yet, here we are in 2013 and it still hasn’t happened. It’s a highly complex technology. Having said that, I think there is some hope that it will be with us before too much longer. Until then, I’d go for a car with an optimized combustion engine and proven technology. Apart from that, I’d take the train for longer journeys and would fly if I’m traveling outside Europe.