In 2020, we are witnessing how a virus is keeping the whole world in suspense and has already changed it. During the first wave of infection, goods became scarce, there were supply bottlenecks, the positive economic forecasts turned negative, the economy shrank, borders were partially closed. Current economic forecasts indicate that the situation will improve, but Europe’s economy will not return to pre-crisis levels until the end of 2022 at the earliest.
But what would happen if the situation did not improve and the world started to de-globalize, markets were to be sealed off from each other and economic stagnation became a permanent state. What does such a scenario mean for European mobility?
World trade is stagnating because many countries have isolated themselves from each other. On the one hand, this is due to disagreements and mistrust between the industrialized nations, which lead to extended import and export restrictions and are accompanied by worsening international trading conditions. On the other hand, countries are striving for autarky in order to be independent in their specific key technologies when needed. The resulting independence through local production and short transport routes has proven to be an advantage in the crisis.
As an export nation, Germany is severely affected by de-globalization due to the very difficult trading conditions. Companies must restructure themselves in order to survive. In addition, a large number of companies are going bankrupt, causing unemployment rates in Germany to rise and making private mobility a luxury that not everyone can afford over time. In addition to trade, international cooperation on technological advances has also declined sharply as countries focus on their local needs. Due to the lack of information exchange regarding research and development, the rate of innovation is declining and new technologies are developed only slowly, making disruptive technologies a rarity.
The supply of imported raw materials is increasingly unreliable and subject to strongly fluctuating prices. The isolated situation on the world market is also hitting mobility companies hard, as the import of raw materials such as lithium, cobalt and platinum is also made more difficult by the isolation. There are alternatives to state-of-the-art technology, such as cobalt-free e-machines for battery-electric vehicles. However, these have the decisive disadvantage that they are less efficient and also larger and heavier, which makes them less attractive. In addition to battery-electric vehicles, fuel cell vehicles are also affected by this development, which is why these vehicles are not becoming more attractive either. The new trading situation thus also has an indirect effect on all drive systems.
Due to expensive imports of raw materials and a slowed down technology competition, there is no significant cost degression that could be generated in the field of alternative powertrains. Battery-electric vehicles are becoming more expensive compared to the time before de-globalization and still have a comparatively short range with long charging times, which is why they are only used in urban areas. In addition, they are not suitable for everyday use and cannot be financed by the majority of the population. At the same time, the fuel cell vehicles remain a marginal phenomenon due to the import-related high cost of materials and inhibited further development.
Since the agreed climate targets are still being pursued despite the tense economic situation and the holding period of the existing fleet has been extended due to the loss of purchasing power, climate-neutral solutions are needed for the existing fleet.
The fact that individual mobility is becoming more and more expensive favors the spread of shared mobility. On the one hand because travel costs can be shared and on the other hand because shared mobility is highly diversified and its use is geared to local conditions. Manufacturers try to reduce their fleet emissions tank-to-wheel through shared projects. Shared mobility is therefore mainly implemented with battery-electric vehicles and, due to their limited range, mostly in urban areas.
Although the prices of conventional fuels are rising only slightly due to more difficult trading conditions, they are no longer desirable due to the climate-damaging combustion process, which is why they must be replaced by eFuels. The hoped-for cost reduction through economies of scale and technological progress in synthetic fuels is not forthcoming because it has not been possible to import them from regions such as Africa. Despite the cost disadvantage, however, eFuels are indispensable for operating the existing fleet, in addition to aviation and shipping.