Thus Spoke Dr. Zetsche (at TUM on Nov, 26th )

“The Second Carreer of the Automobile” is the topic Dieter Zetsche, managing director of Daimler AG will talk about on November, 26, at 4.30 p.m. at Munich Technical University. Organised by “Handelsblatt Junge Karriere” and TUM under the motto “economic leaders live”, this presentation of one of the most dynamic and well-known representatives of German economy will take place at the Audimax of TU München at 4.30 p.m.. After his talk, Dieter Zetsche will gladly answer students’ questions.

The text is taken from the Portal der TUM (Munich Technical University). It is well worth taking a look at it once in a while. You will find truly interesting announcements and presentations on that homepage. My mentee Michael of Manage&More (unternehmerTUM) made me aware of this announcement, so both of us went to hear the presentation by Dr. Zetsche after our mentee/mentor session. After a short report, I will add some comment of my own:

Following a short and humorous introduction by the president of TUM, the presentation started. I seldom heard a famous economic leader or politician speak as precise and clear as Dr. Zetsche. I liked his presentation very much. In the following paragraphs, I will give a short and simplified version of what he said and include some personal remarks of mine.

In his presentation, Dr. Zetsche gave reasons why he absolutely believes in “The Second Carreer of the Automobile”. He focussed on three words:

  • Emancipation: A car contributes significantly to the emancipation process of a person. It gives independence and mobility, personal freedom is hugely extended through using a car and thus having more mobility. Many people only grow up to be adults through owning their own car. For some of us, personal freedom only started with the VW Beetle. People still living in not-as-emancipated societies as we Middle Europeans therefore strongly desire to own a car as the main step towards progress in their lives. The social and economic rise of Germany can be best described through the metaphor “from the Isetta to the VW Beetle, from the VW Beetle to the Mercedes”. Our society, so Dr. Zetsche, is a model for people in economically less developed countries such as China, India or South America. Even though the market in Europe and the USA is satiated, there is still enormous potential in China, India and South American. The following statistics can serve to prove this assumption: in the USA, every 1,000 people own 700 cars, in China, the same number of people own only 14 cars, and in India only 7. Thus, these countries have a huge potential for catching up. In a few years, there will probably be twice as many cars “populating” the world as there are now.
  • Emotion: Cars are also key products for people attempting to make a public show of their life-style and identity. There is no other consumer good which makes it possible for the owner to define and demonstrate his or her true self and personality in the same way as does the automobile. Cars cause personal identity. This high emotional significance of cars for people will guarantee a future demand for individualized cars in the future. This is why compromises with respect to technical details or differentiation must not be made with future cars.
  • Innovation: To be sure, says Dr. Zetsche, the planet earth cannot cope with twice as many cars with current technology. This problem, however, must and will be solved with innovative technical progress. In the near future, modern automobile designers will supply us with cars that emit less and less. Eventually, the innovation will result in cars totally without emission. Cars will run on hydrogen or electricity, totally emission-free or with vaporized water as their only by-product.

Hoping that I succeeded in repeating Dr. Zetsche’s ideas more or less correctly, I will now start with my own comment:

  • Emancipation: I believe new generations and new countries learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. Although I know that this view of mine is optimistic and that the development up to now in countries like China and India seems to contradict my hope, I still see that more and more people understand that consuming goods is not the equivalent of happiness. And they change their ways, some of their own accord, some because they must. On foot, I am less mobile than by bike, the motorbike has more potential than the bike, by car I can easily travel 250 km per day. Using a private airplane, I can even manage 2,500 km per day. Does my freedom depend on my mobility? Mobility and freedom have nothing in common.
  • Emotion: I, too, am subject to the temptation of defining my personality through the choice of my car (or bike). There was a time when, as a matter of principle, I drove nothing but the latest BMW model (always red) with the strongest motor available (it was only a “3” series car). Once, another BMW driver gave me the approving thumb in front of the Bavarian Staatskanzlei as he saw me in my brand-new, red 325i. That was a really nice feeling. However, I also remember almost getting killed with the same car on the motorway bridge in Holledau when I drove back to InerFace rather fast from a visit to the Federal Employment Agency in Nürnberg. A Mercedes (as it happens it was the business car of one of the then leading database producers) suddenly swerved to the left for taking over directly in front of me and thus pushed me aside. The driver had not seen me and not even given a signal. My red BMW turned around several times, touched the crash-barriers on both sides and then came to a standstill on just about the highest point of the bridge. I got out of the car and looked down. That was quite a shocking experience for me. Barbara, too, looked rather pale when she saw the indentations on the crash-barriers and the damaged car. I was not injured. There were not even marks on my skin from the safety belt.
  • Innovation: Technology has advanced considerably. This, however, does not really show, because simultaneously cars have become bigger, heavier and faster all the time. As far as environment-friendliness is concerned, we could easily have achieved a lot more by now if the cars had gone back to being more sensible. And that is where the customers would have to vote through their money. Still, I do not believe the ZERO emission will ever come. Even if everything is moved by electricity or hydrogen, there is still the question where electricity and hydrogen should be generated. And then the washing-machine will most likely be given preference before the car, because it is a lot more inconvenient to go back to washing in a tub, rinsing the laundry and then hanging it up than going places by bike. Also, producing a car costs a lot of energy, and when there are twice as many cars being driven, you will also need twice (?) as many streets, parking lots, garages, service stations, etc. I will then be glad that those will be built in China and India, rather than here. And then the term “low-noise traffic” gets more and more relevant in social discussions. Even though the motors have been getting softer, it is still rather noisy in a zone with a speed-limit of 30 if a “housewife-truck” (copyright with Herrn Schindler) takes you over and the winter-proof tyres can be heard from afar. After all, noise can also be regarded as emission.

On my way to the presentation by underground train, I found a copy of the “WELT KOMPAKT” of the same day. What a coincidence that an article on page one had the title:

The Internet is the Most-Beloved Child of the Germans

and the sub-title:

Poll: the Web is More Important than the Car

Being a computer scientist, this filled me with hope for our profession. The article also said that “the usage of computers among Germans has changed significantly and laptops get more and more important. Also, for 76 % of the men, a running power of the batteries as long as possible is the key criterion when they buy a notebook. For women, however, the design gets more and more important”.

The article appealed to me, because it looked like another symbol to me that my thesis might, after all, be correct: We are on the move from an auto-mobile to an information-mobile society!

At an aside, Dr. Zetsche spent all his professionally active years at Daimler (Mercedes-Chrysler-Daimler). It was clearly visible, too, that he was a “Mercedes-Person” to the bone, and I find that just great. Personally, I always get nervous if I hear of a managing director suddenly changing from, say, pharmacy to machine construction.

Something Dr. Zetsche said during the hour of question-answering gave me pause. When someone asked if he foresaw that the number of global players in the automobile industry will change due to fusions or the emission of participants on the market, Dr. Zetsche answered that probably some producers will disappear but be replaced by new producers already standing ready to take over. And these new global players will then come from India or China! In the past, we witnessed several times what this could mean for our national technology producers.

And, as I see it, the fact that Chrysler has been all but a success story in the past is certainly not due to Dr. Z (”Ask Dr. Z”), as they call him in the USA (for an American, ”Zetsche” is not easy on the ear). I believe that, even if you are a managing director, you have not much of a chance against developments that will take place anyway. Either you adapt to where the wind blows and use it, or you will sooner or later cease to exist.


At an aside, here is an anectode: Dr. Zetsche told us that Daimler and Merrcedes probably feature in more than 150 pop songs. BMW in less than 10. So here comes a short song or a nice advert little for the nice Mercedes brand.

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