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Speech by Federal President Horst Köhler at the 2010 ADAC "Gelber Engel" award ceremony

Bundespräsident Horst Köhler Munich, 14 January 2010 Photo: Guido Bergmann, BPA © Photo: Guido Bergmann, BPA

A member of my staff told me recently that her car had had a flat tyre. It was dark, it was raining, she was in a hurry, and there was no spare wheel in the car. You can imagine her relief when an ADAC man turned up to help.

It's one of the things ADAC is known for: fixing broken-down cars and getting drivers mobile again. But we all know that car repairs are not enough to ensure our mobility in the long term. Mobility, as it is practised today, is not up to the challenges of the future. At least not if we think any further ahead than the next twenty or thirty years. Our planet certainly couldn't cope if people all over the world were to drive around in cars as much as we do here. If that were the case, we would need more than one Earth already. In order to remain mobile in the future - and also in order to improve the mobility of people in poorer countries - we have to rethink things. Completely.

This isn't easy. Most people find change difficult at first. We like to stick to our comfortable habits. But, even so, we are constantly changing. Just think back fifty years. In many places children could still play on the streets back then. Today they can hardly even play on the pavements - too dangerous.

We have gradually come to accept how carefully we have to watch over our children on the roads, and we have gradually come to accept that exhaust fumes harm our environment. We have narrowed our freedom in order to gain the freedom to take a spontaneous trip in the car, to drive anywhere we want.

But then we decide we don't want this freedom of the road everywhere after all. More and more cities are banning cars from their city centres and creating pedestrian zones. In more and more neighbourhoods the residents want traffic calmed areas. Today urban and regional planners have to think from the outset about how distances can be shortened so that no traffic builds up at all.

Certainly, we need our mobility. Every modern economy is dependent on it. But what form will, and should, mobility take in the future? More and more of the same just leads to gridlock. What is a concept for sustainable mobility? If we consider technological progress over the past twenty years alone, it is clear that there are no limits to the imagination when it comes to drawing up scenarios for the future. Let's try out our imagination. Twenty years ago, probably, no one could imagine how much the Internet revolution or mobile phones would change our lives.

Both of these also have a direct impact on our mobility. Business meetings are being held more and more often via video link, teleworking allows people to work from home, lots of purchases are made with the click of a mouse. True, this has disadvantages too, and it's not my intention to speak out in favour of a virtual society. We need to talk in person, we enjoy meeting other people. A communication society where people can no longer look each other in the eye is a nightmare. Nevertheless, the Internet has rendered some car journeys superfluous, and doubtless this trend will intensify in future, thanks to technological advances. But this is not a substitute for new mobility concepts.

Local and long-distance public transport must be further developed - declarations of intent are not enough. Public transport belongs at the heart of our policy on mobility. The figures make for sobering reading: in 2008, sixty percent of workers travelled to work by car, only about thirteen percent used bus or train. These are more or less the same figures we were seeing twelve years ago. If they are to change, we will have to improve the range of local public transport services and make them more attractive. And we need better link ups between the various modes of transport, and between public and individual transport.

Many people just get into their cars in the morning almost without thinking, and then they find themselves stuck in another traffic jam. Experts have calculated that traffic jams cost the German economy several billion euro every year. And to my mind the answer is not simply to build more roads. Stuck in traffic jams, people waste time, get irritated. Some people put themselves through it every day, even if a five-minute walk would take them to the underground, which would get them to work quicker and more comfortably. Never mind the pleasure of being able to read the paper on the way! It's true that this is not possible in every town, nor in every suburb; but it is possible much more often than transport user figures would suggest. Are we actually aware how our quality of life suffers just because we don't let go of old habits? Sometimes I wish people would think about this a little more.

What mode of transport is the best to get me where I want to go by the route I want to take? My own feet, if I'm just popping to the baker's round the corner. Maybe a bicycle, if I'm going to play cards with friends who live a few kilometres away. Underground to a concert in the opera house. Probably the intercity train to go to a trade fair in Frankfurt. And, yes, the car for a nice drive out in the countryside.

But what kind of car? German cars are commonly recognized as the best in the world. And I believe they are. The question is merely: which is the "best car"? Is it the fastest, the zippiest, the shiniest, the biggest and most powerful? Or isn't it much rather the one that uses least fuel, that emits least carbon dioxide, the safest one? I think it is worthwhile thinking more about our quality criteria. And you are doing just that.

"Vehicle quality" currently counts for thirty percent of the marks in ADAC's evaluation of car brands "AutoMarxX", environmental aspects for just fifteen percent. Pardon me for saying I find this a bit outdated. We can no longer afford to take this view. Environmental friendliness must be a bigger part of quality assessment. ADAC has around sixteen million members. You can give these people guidance.

The Federal Government has set itself this goal: by 2020 there should be a million electric vehicles on the German market. It is important that the electricity for these cars comes from renewables and that the cars become smaller and lighter. It is important that the search for other alternative forms of propulsion is not neglected. And it is important that every effort be made at the same time to further reduce the fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions of conventional cars.

Henry Ford once said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses". In other words, mobility has to be thought ahead. You, leading representatives of the car industry, be ahead of your customers! The phrase "that's what the customers wanted" is not set in stone for all eternity. As leaders you have a responsibility to lead. And part of that is to recognize shifts in the tide - on the markets and in society - and to react promptly and get new products ready for the market. If you are ambitious you will read the signal from Copenhagen like this: the automotive industry in this country has the confidence to put into practice what has been recognized to be correct and important from the climate policy viewpoint. The German automotive industry doesn't wait until policy-makers force it to act. It wants to determine what form mobility will take in the 21st century too. And so it acts - of its own accord.

Germany was right to set itself the ambitious goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by forty percent by 2020. What part can the German car industry play in meeting this goal? Please lead by example - both in your own commercial interest and for the good of the community. The future belongs to whoever first gets the power of the sun in the tank, whoever first overtakes on hydrogen, whoever first roars off in a CO2 free car.

The market for conventional cars in Europe is almost saturated. The one for sustainably environmentally friendly products is not. Especially not the market for environmentally friendly mobility. Who knows? - perhaps car companies will in future evolve into mobility companies.

There have been initial moves in this direction. I am thinking of the "Car2go project" in Ulm. Two hundred small cars are parked in various places throughout the city. Registered customers with an electronic seal on their driving licence and a PIN can rent these cars on the spot and drive them away. They are then charged by the minute. So anyone travelling from Frankfurt to Ulm who needs a car there can happily get onto a train, knowing that a car is waiting in Ulm, ready to be hired easily and cheaply.

This model could be expanded. Why shouldn't it be possible for a family that needs a roomy estate car just a few times a year to be able to hire one in the same way? Or how about this - a family going on holiday with three children arrange for their luggage to be collected from home, while they go by underground to the station, take the intercity, and when they arrive at the station in Florence, their luggage is waiting in the hired car at the door. I still often hear complaints about Germany being a services desert. How about launching a campaign for mobility services, strengthening local public transport and at the same time giving people cars exactly where they need them?

If mobility concepts such as this were the norm, then it would be much easier to use the best form of transport for each journey - best for a mobile person who wants to get from A to B quickly, comfortably and safely, but also best for the environment and for the export possibilities of such strategic concepts. Many nations, and particularly the many megacities, are waiting longingly for new concepts like these. And, ladies and gentlemen, you are aware that for a few years now more than half of the world's population has been living in towns and cities.

But, beware of the trap. It is tempting, now that the markets in the North are saturated, merely to transfer old ways of thinking to the mobility-hungry emerging economies and to delight the people there with conventional cars. "After all, that's what the customer wants." This way of thinking can also be transported to China. To do so would be short-sighted.

In the old days, sporting ambition asked what was the fastest way to get to the finishing line. In future the question will be: who has used least energy in getting to the finishing line? Let's turn the old car cult into a new culture of mobility.

Two, two-and-a-half years ago, I said rather cheekily that we had fantastic cars in Germany, but we had sort of overlooked the ecological dimension. Whereupon I received a barrage of criticism in the press. Then I invited representatives of the car industry to a meeting in Schloss Bellevue. Almost all the bosses were there. The talks gave me a good feeling: they were engineers, executives, who relished challenges. So when I say now that we have overlooked something, I don't mean it as criticism of our people, of our business executives, but rather as a request, a challenge to tackle these new questions and work with the same energy, the same creativity, to find solutions for the future, to come up with these innovations.

For it is industry that has to create the technological prerequisites for a new mobility culture. Politicians must provide the right incentives. And in the end it requires the desire of every individual consumer to make a contribution towards protecting our environment and our climate. We need every individual to want to be mobile in an environmentally friendly way. ADAC is especially well placed to help make this decision easy for people.

Technological progress has changed our world. That has always been the case. Let us work together to ensure that technology serves the interests of people and their environment, that it helps to preserve our world - today, tomorrow, the day after that. I look forward to surprises, to creative solutions to the challenge of reconciling our need for mobility with the need for a clean environment. So that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren can still go for trips out into the green countryside. With enjoyment, and with a clear conscience.