Background: The transition towards automated and connected driving in Germany

Automated and connected driving is an area of technology of paramount importance for Germany, as it is fundamental for the future of the domestic automotive industry.

With around 820,000 employees, this is one of the country’s biggest industries and is still regarded as the most prominent flagship of “Made in Germany”. As a central component of the founding myth of the Federal Republic of Germany and the driver of the German Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) in the 1950s and 1960s, it is no ordinary industry, but offers high identification potential for many people in Germany, regardless of age, origin or worldview.

The debates about the automation of road traffic and about the foreseeable end of the conventional combustion engine are correspondingly emotional, and not only in specialist circles. There is general consensus that the German automotive industry is at the dawn of a uniquely radical transformation process.

In addition, the industry is being challenged by an array of newcomers for the first time. Newly emerging e-vehicle manufacturers such as Tesla, and digital mobility providers such as Google and Uber have earned a considerable advantage in terms of vehicle digitization and automated driving. They are also shaking up the mobility market with innovative ideas that question the established manufacturers’ traditional business models.

The German automotive industry has recognized all of this as a sign of the times and is now starting an ambitious race to catch up. In the next five years alone, Volkswagen will invest around 44 billion euros in autonomous driving, digitization and electric mobility, as well as new mobility services. BMW and Daimler are also taking action and intend to cooperate in the development of autonomous vehicles.

The Federal Government’s strategy

The German Federal Government is doing all it can to support these efforts. The Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure launched the “Strategy for Automated and Connected Driving” back in 2015. This package of measures is worth billions of Euros and envisages several projects to accompany the digital transformation of individual, commercial and public road-bound traffic:

  • The expansion of the digital broadband network with at least 50 MBit/s along the motorway network is to be advanced and the 5G standard established in the medium term. Standards for the digitization of the federal motorway network will also be developed and tested in real life with the Digital Motorway Test Bed.
  • Binding legal standards are to be developed at both national and international levels. These concern both the operation of autonomous vehicles and driver training, as well as type approval and technical monitoring.
  • There will be research projects in the field of automated and autonomous driving. As of August 2018, a further 14 test beds will receive funding, in addition to the Autobahn digital test bed. These include the tri-national Germany-France-Luxembourg Cross-Border Digital Test Bed.
  • Networking between road users and the infrastructure is being promoted. To this end, traffic-related mobility and geo data are to be made available via an open source platform. Automated vehicles will be supplied with detailed traffic data via the digital radio standard DAB+. Traffic signs and signaling systems will be networked with traffic to optimize traffic flows.
  • Finally, norms and standards for IT security and data protection for users of autonomous mobility services are to be developed.

The City of Aachen gets its citizens involved

For the City of Aachen, as a university city, it is particularly important to address the topic of “autonomous mobility” with its citizens as early in the process as possible. Given the advantages of its location, Aachen has the opportunity to apply and use this technology earlier than other cities. It is thus crucial to find out the concerns, needs, wishes and fears of the people of Aachen, then take them on-board in the development of strategies and guidelines. The introduction of autonomous mobility is just around the corner and needs to be planned for, with the citizens. Early dialogue on this is a great opportunity for everyone.

However, the pressure for German automobile manufacturers to change does not just come from outside. The car is also currently being reassessed in German society. The private car as a status symbol seems to have had its day, especially among younger urban dwellers. This trend is first confirmed by the fact that young adults are taking their driving tests later and later and, secondly, by the fact that car sharing is becoming increasingly popular. The automobile is increasingly seen as a service and less and less as a personal possession.

So what does this mean for the future of the automobile in Germany specifically? In the long term, car manufacturers could transform themselves into mobility service providers that operate autonomous vehicle fleets for their customers. In such a scenario, people would have mobility subscriptions with their preferred manufacturer, but would no longer own a vehicle themselves.

However, there is still a long way to go until that happens. According to a survey of around 1,200 participants from Germany, commissioned by an insurance company in 2018, 60% of those surveyed still find it difficult to picture themselves driving an autonomous vehicle. Around two thirds also fear the loss of driving pleasure. Nevertheless, it is acknowledged that for long-haul journeys and for certain population groups, such as the elderly, autonomous vehicles could be a useful contribution.

Citizens’ debates get citizens involved in these exciting developments. In addition to the experts, they can contribute valuable input to the debate on automated driving. We can therefore expect some fascinating results from the upcoming citizens’ debates in German-speaking countries.

Authors: Lorenz Crössmann, Angela Jain, Sabine Schröder