Speech on transport and mobility by Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier at the closing event of the 2015 Ambassadors Conference Business Forum

25.08.2015 - Speech

Ladies and gentlemen,
Mr Schwarzenbauer,
Mr Bültmann,

In February, “Die Zeit” newspaper wrote that “the automotive industry is like football. You have 22 players, and the Germans always win in the end. Don’t they?”

Some people here today may be surprised about the question at the end of this statement. For decades, it was more or less seen as a natural law in business that the Germans don’t only make the most cars, but also the best ones. And they do so with the best engineers.

Are there now doubts about this “natural law”? What impact will this have on Germany as a location for business and investment? And why should we diplomats deal with this issue? This is what we are going to discuss in the next hour.

I am very pleased to have two renowned experts at my side today. They represent the two areas that will determine the future of the transport industry. One comes from a classic “Made in Germany” car manufacturer, while the other is a representative of a technological champion that plans on revolutionising the automotive industry through cloud technology and big data.

Peter Schwarzenbauer from BMW and Michael Bültmann from HERE Deutschland, you are very welcome here today!


Why are we foreign policymakers interested in the future of transport and the transport sector? I say this is because the world is in motion – and more than ever before.

Allow me to explain this using three hypotheses.

Firstly, cities are attracting ever greater numbers of people.

Over half of the global population – 3.5 billion people – lives in cities today. And this number is expected to double by 2050!

I saw what this means when I visited São Paulo last week. The Brazilian metropolis is one of the world’s megacities, with an economic output worth the same amount as Turkey’s! And anyone who has ever been stuck in a traffic jam in São Paulo will know what challenges this growth entails.

These challenges affect logistics processes, transport infrastructure and means of transport, as well as supply and waste disposal systems. The crucial question here is how urban space can be made liveable and fit for future changes.

After all, mobility does not just mean travelling from A to B or transporting goods. No, it means one thing above all: fast and guaranteed access to education, culture and work. In cities and metropolitan areas in particular, mobility means participation in public life and economic growth. Cities are places of social change. Improved transport options help to facilitate interaction between social groups and to foster social cohesion. In urban centres in Asia, but also in Africa and Latin America, the transport issue will thus also decide whether countries will be able to provide services of general interest in the future.

This brings me to my second hypothesis.

The transport of the future can only be provided by using modern technology.

We need the latest technologies in order to facilitate mobility in the megacities in the future, while simultaneously minimising the impact on the environment and climate. You and your companies can play a part in mastering this colossal global challenge.

Whether we are talking about the construction of the new underground in Lima, the planning of new ports in Indonesia or the development of a transport concept for express buses in Dar es Salaam, no matter what country I visit, people almost always ask me what transport solutions and technologies German companies can provide.

German firms’ reliability is often a crucial factor in this. Unlike some other companies, you, ladies and gentlemen, rarely set up a factory abroad in order to make a quick profit. No, your aim is generally to build up value over the long term. This reliability, this partnership approach and not least your excellent “Made in Germany” products also have an impact on the political level and make Germany a partner country that is very much in demand internationally.

My third hypothesis is that our transport expertise in the world depends on German vehicle makers, be they car, train or commuter vehicle manufacturers.

For over 100 years, the automotive industry has been the driving force behind a technical development that has brought us unprecedented levels of mobility and freedom. The sector is now facing great changes.

In 2013, German companies produced over 8.6 million cars abroad – four times as many as in 1995! But there has been a big shift. China, not Europe, now dominates production. The automotive map is being redrawn, not only in manufacturing, but also in innovation in particular. In the latter, however, the shift is towards the United States.

The automotive industry has always required large investments in development. Technical innovation is vital for the entire economy and value-added chain. And the crucial question now is how quickly industry and engineering can be merged efficiently with information technologies and big data.

A huge technological milestone occurred around seven years ago, when the Apple iPhone made mobile internet access widely available. The fact that companies such as Google have now developed a self-driving car means that it and other data concerns are now serious competitors for traditional German and European car makers.

Cars are becoming rolling smartphones, while buses are becoming apps on wheels. It is now of secondary importance where and by whom a car body is welded – if it is even welded in the first place, rather than printed. Technological revolutions of this kind can pose a particular threat to today’s strong, successful companies. But they can also be an opportunity! This is not a question of developing vehicles further, but rather of fundamentally reinventing transport. The fact that a German automotive consortium paid a cool 2.8 billion euros a few weeks ago for HERE, a comparatively new company, following a lengthy bidding war on both sides of the Atlantic, shows just how tough this competition is.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Observing and evaluating innovation developments abroad is something that we diplomats, my dear colleagues, will have to spend more time on in the future than we have done so far.

I said it here last year, and I am happy to repeat it: we diplomats are something like Germany’s sales department. In the future, we will need to keep an even closer eye on technological and economic developments that challenge our companies and thus our model for prosperity.

As regards transport, this means that we need to understand how the global market is changing under digital conditions and how our companies are adapting to these changes. In this context, the transport sector stands for many other industries.

I am eager to hear our experts’ answers to these questions.

I’ll hand over to BMW now. Mr Schwarzenbauer, the floor is yours.

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