Before the corona virus reached Germany, there had already been an appointment for this conversation: The leaders from Baden-Württemberg's politics and the auto and energy industry should talk about how the energy and mobility turnaround can succeed. The meeting at the State Ministry in Stuttgart was still in person, even if the participants no longer shook hands because of the virus. In the meantime, Daimler has temporarily closed its car factories.
For the ZEIT photographer, they sat down two weeks ago. In the meantime, this conversation would also only be possible via video conference. © Thomas Pirot for DIE ZEIT
DIE ZEIT: Mr. Källenius, what do you, as the Daimler boss, think of the idea of only allowing electric cars from 2030?
Ola Källenius: We are crystal clear about CO₂-neutral mobility. No ifs and buts. Our goal with our "Ambition 2039" strategy is to be completely CO₂-neutral in three generations of passenger vehicles - that is, in 2039. We have also set an ambitious milestone: By 2030, we want to operate more than 50 percent of our fleet purely on battery power or with plug-in hybrids for long ranges. It is a gigantic technological and industrial project. If you were to say 100 percent in 2030, I would say this is not realistic with the pattern of movement that the world has - also with the gap between city and country. The range is so important because two thirds of the people in Germany don't live in the big city, but in the country.
ZEIT: So a ban on the combustion engine by 2030 is not possible?
Källenius: No, I don't think that makes sense. I also tell you why: We have got used to the fact that self-determined, individual mobility, i.e. freedom, is somehow taken for granted. This personal mobility, but also the transport of goods, correlates directly with economic growth. That is an extremely high commodity, and we must now make this high commodity sustainable.
ZEIT: Mr. Kretschmann, no internal combustion engines by 2030, that's a suggestion from the leadership of your party.
Winfried Kretschmann: That's not true. Strictly speaking, the suggestion is that from 2030 no more vehicles with fossil combustion will be allowed. But even here a year does not help us. Then why not in 2028 or 2035? This cannot be determined at this point in time. We have to be tough on something else: the two-degree goal. Global warming must not be higher, otherwise there will be a catastrophe. Now the question is: How do we achieve the goal with the least collateral damage? If the industry breaks down or emigrates, we won nothing. Then the goal takes a back seat because people lose confidence in our politics. We already notice that today. The number of climate deniers has increased enormously worldwide.
ZEIT: Are the power grids ready for electric cars at all, so that many people can charge a Tesla, Daimler or BMW on the socket at the same time?
Frank Mastiaux: The amount of electricity is not the problem. A million electric vehicles would generate just half a percent more electricity in Germany. The challenge begins when many vehicles load at the same time. In a residential street, for example, not every resident can currently charge an electric car at the same time. Additional network reinforcements have to be built there.
ZEIT: Have you ever calculated the maximum number of cars that could be operated electrically in Germany without the power grid collapsing?
Mastiaux: Ten million or more vehicles would also not be a problem.
ZEIT: Today electric cars drive with a not inconsiderable proportion of coal electricity. Was the nuclear phase-out a mistake in this regard?
Mastiaux: If it is just a matter of saving CO₂, you could actually ask this question. But we know that other factors have played a role. The charging stations that we operate are already supplied with 100 percent renewable energy. In the meantime, the coal phase-out has been decided by 2038, so the electricity from the socket is becoming greener from year to year.
ZEIT: In fact, the expansion of renewable energy is stalling tremendously. That doesn't speak for the trend ...
Mastiaux: Indeed, it was a good three years between the idea and the commissioning of a wind farm in 2018, today there are almost six.
ZEIT: Why is that?
Mastiaux: There is increasing local resistance, for example from citizens' initiatives and also from associations. We try hard to involve these groups. But if we, as a company, allow new wind turbines to be built for 1000 megawatts a year, as in the past, we have a problem. We need 3000 to 4000 megawatts per year by 2030 to achieve the climate protection goals. That is why we have to talk about shorter planning and approval procedures. Using the example of the corona crisis, we can see that people are ready to make massive restrictions in their everyday lives if it serves a higher social purpose. Politics at the federal level should take courage from their determined action and also make consistent decisions so that the climate protection goals are achieved.