There are more than a billion cars in the world and 1.25 million people die in road accidents annually. Both numbers are rising. Asia is embracing the automobile and gearing up to produce lots of them. The health of the European automotive industry, however, is far from assured.


Future watcher Tony Seba has a dramatic way of illustrating this. A 1900 photograph of New York shows a street full of horse-drawn vehicles and one motor car. A photograph taken ten years later shows the same street full of motor cars and one horse-drawn vehicle. Seba says we are about to experience another transport revolution so far-reaching that we won’t know what’s hit us; nor will the people whose economic survival is bound up with automotive production.

Demand for cars will decline in Europe. More young people are stigmatising car ownership. Electric cars and driverless vehicles will transform the way we move ourselves and things around. Uber is testing food deliveries by drone.

What impact might this revolution have on Germany in particular, where the motor is the motor of the national economy and to some extent the European economy too? What if Germany realises too late that it was looking the wrong way, that a green transport revolution had crept up and left it standing?

As diesel is phased out and US tech giants move in, some motor manufacturers are belatedly waking to the challenge: Volkswagen, for example, is now making a strong commitment to an electric future. But can Germany achieve the major and rapid transformation it needs to avoid massive economic and social disruption?

A recent conversation with a senior automotive executive in eastern Europe made me think that perhaps it is possible. She – a rare woman in the male-dominated world of automotive management – is already planning for a production downturn. She is training all her managers to focus on disruption and sustainable innovation. If they are not going to be producing cars in the future, how will they stay ahead? What can they do to redirect a whole enterprise in new and as yet unpredictable directions?

The Western petrol engine apocalypse could be imminent. Few senior managers I’ve talked to are taking action to deal with a world which is already turning upside down. It’s refreshing to meet someone who is taking the challenge seriously and trying to get the top men in her company to heed her warnings too.

Steve Flinders is a freelance trainer, writer and coach, based in Malta, who helps people develop their leadership and communication skills for working internationally.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Scan Magazine Ltd.’

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