Green Solutions to the Auto Crisis

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Publication Series Ecology, Volume 4

Green Solutions to the Auto Crisis

November 11, 2009
By Weert Canzler and Andreas Knie

The production and sales figures of the auto industry plunged dramatically during the first quarter of 2009. Yet the current automotive crisis is not merely the result of an economic downturn. It has revealed structural flaws within the industry itself. Climate change and dwindling fossil fuel resources, but also evolving mobility requirements in urban areas call for different cars – and a different kind of mobility. Integrated transportation systems that combine the strengths of a variety of modes of transportation while compensating for their respective shortcomings will be the only perspective for adequate efficiency and flexibility. Transforming the automobile into an element of a comprehensive range of mobility options is crucial in this regard. Mobility researchers Andreas Knie and Weert Canzler have produced a strategy paper on behalf of the Heinrich Böll Foundation analyzing the current crisis and outlining their vision of the “mobility products of the future”.

Diese Publikation existiert auch auf Deutsch.

The authors:

Dr. Weert Canzler was born in 1960 and studied Political Sciences, Economics and Law at Freie Universität Berlin and obtained his doctorate in Sociology from Technische Universität Berlin. From 1988 to 1992, he was a research assistant at the Institute for Futures Studies and Technology Assessment (IZT) in Berlin and the Secretariat for Futures Studies (SFZ) in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Since 1993, he has been active at the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB) and has directed the WZB’s Project Group on Mobility together with Andreas Knie since 1998. Research topics: innovation and future studies, automobile and mobility development and transportation policy, infrastructure policy. Numerous publications and articles on these topics.

Prof. Andreas Knie was born in 1960 and is a political scientist at the WZB and professor at Technische Universität Berlin. He shares responsibility for the WZB’s Project Group on Mobility with Weert Canzler, and coordinates the WZB’s Science Policy Research Group together with Dagmar Simon. Since 2001, Knie has also served as Area Manager for Intermodal Services at DB Rent GmbH and as a member of the business management of Innovationszentrum für Mobilität und gesellschaftlichen Wandel GmbH (InnoZ), a partnership of Deutsche Bahn AG, T-Systems, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the WZB, since 2006. Research topics: public transportation, traffic studies, technology policy, science policy and innovation. Numerous publications and articles on these topics.


From Auto Makers to Mobility Service Providers -
Green Solutions to the Auto Crisis
Editor Heinrich Böll Stiftung
Place of publication Berlin
Date of publication November 2009
Pages 36
ISBN 978-3-86928-013-4
Service charge Free of charge



1 Crisis as opportunity? A turnaround in automobile use

  • Big loses, small wins
  • A temporary lull in sales?

2 The auto industry: an economic or structural crisis?

  • A fresh impetus for alternative drives: the state of the art
  • Electric mobility – déjà vu or the base of a learning curve?

3 Automobility 2.0: The “green car” as an element of sustainable mobility

  • The integrated public vehicle in urban areas
  • The regulatory framework for tomorrow’s mobility
  • The next steps

Sources, further reading and web links


Ralf Fücks, President, Heinrich Böll Foundation
Dorothee Dick, Head of Department, Ecology and Sustainability

“Auto Industry Production and Sales Figures Plunge Dramatically During First Quarter of 2009” – “Daimler Acquires 10% Share of Californian Electric Auto Startup Tesla Motors” – “Obama Ends the Gas Guzzler Era” – the headlines of the recent past suggest that automobile manufacturers are not just suffering from the economic downturn. They are also experiencing a structural crisis that will require a profound transformation of the industry. Climate change, the dwindling availability and increasing price of oil, the intense pressures of traffic in many cities and the new mobility needs of many people will bring about a major change in the demand for cars worldwide. The industry’s proven recipe for success – building ever larger, more powerful cars – has now become an outdated model. In light of the auto industry’s present crisis, the Heinrich Böll Foundation commissioned Dr. Weert Canzler and Prof. Andreas Knie of the Social Science Research Center Berlin to outline mobility concepts for the future. This strategy paper analyzes the current crisis and illustrates how demand for mobility will be changing in urban regions. Its verdict: firstly, we need climate-neutral cars that no longer depend on oil, a finite resource, in their production and operation. Secondly, it will not be enough to merely replace the internal combustion engine. The “green car of the future” must be embedded in intermodal transportation concepts that will permit effortlessly changing modes of transportation. Thirdly, the “green car of the future” must be associated with new patterns of use. The automotive industry is not alone in facing a deep transformation. New actors will also be entering the scene. In addition to the automotive industry, utility companies, the IT sector and public transportation authorities will be called upon to shape the evolution of new transportation services. Governments will also need the courage to create forward-looking frameworks to promote such development. With this strategy paper, we would like to contribute to the debate surrounding the transformation of the auto industry and mobility concepts of the future. We see the current crisis as an opportunity to question the industrial and political strategies of the past and to set the course for developing the vehicles and services of the future.


The automotive industry is not only suffering from the economic downturn, it has also been in a structural crisis for some time. Overcapacity and years of ignoring medium and long-term challenges such as climate change, the finite nature of fossil fuel resources and the fading symbolic value of cars in urban areas are contributing to the industry’s troubles. It will not be possible to stay the course. Government props such as lax emissions limits, the nature of vehicle taxes, the privileged status of company cars in Germany and the overeager provision of bailouts have all contributed to the structural crisis. The diagnosis is utterly clear: we not only need different cars, but also a new understanding of automobility. The industry isn’t finished, but a fundamental transformation will be crucial for its survival. Governments must also create new, forward-looking legislative frameworks to that end.

In future, traffic in the world’s urban centers will be different from what we know. Unparalleled qualities of use could arise if utility companies, public transportation authorities and the automotive industry were to join forces: all of the forms of transportation needed in day-to-day life would be powered by electricity and provided to users as a single integrated service. That presupposes a change in perspective, however. Alternative drive technologies alone are not enough – the focus must be on comprehensive mobility concepts for urban regions. A wealth of innovations is conceivable – not only new technologies, but also lucrative supplementary services and genuinely groundbreaking new applications. E-mobility is thus a formula for a new, technically sophisticated dimension of utility that will render the concept of mobility based on vehicle ownership a relic of the past. The value creation of intermodal urban e-mobility not only encompasses the vehicle hardware itself, but also traffic services and the provision and storage of energy from renewable sources. Catering to such comprehensive e-mobility will become a leading market worldwide.

Product details
Date of Publication
November 11, 2009
Heinrich Böll Stiftung
Number of Pages
All rights reserved
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