The European Union wants to become climate-neutral by 2050 and thus make progress worldwide. In my opinion, protecting the climate and saving our planet is indisputable – but it is also true that the project is a gigantic undertaking that will result in fundamental changes in industry, the economy and society.
As a company, Daimler Truck is strategically and technologically well positioned for the future. However, the transformation for the transport industry as a whole cannot be managed without political support. And there is still a lot of room for improvement here.
Let’s take a quick look at the challenges using the example of a global truck manufacturer. Because the climate regulations vary greatly around the world, he will probably have to offer vehicles with conventional diesel engines as well as battery or hydrogen trucks over a period of 15, maybe even 20 years. Development and production costs are increasing, while zero-emission vehicles generate lower margins, at least initially.
In order for the vehicles to be sold and operated economically at all, the framework conditions have to be right. This starts with the necessary charging and hydrogen infrastructure and extends to a CO2-oriented vehicle tax and toll. And direct support for the new technologies will also be necessary – as start-up financing until the breakthrough into the mass market has taken place.
The EU and the federal government have created funding pots for this, which in my opinion are very good, but must also be maintained in the ramp-up phase until the middle of the decade. The future will come into being when we succeed in aligning European funding policy with the concrete capabilities and needs of industry in the transformation.
What should such a targeted European funding policy look like? Three specific suggestions:
1. Maintaining strong, competitive industrial regions must come first. Industry clusters with vehicle manufacturers, a functioning supplier structure, service providers and a research and training tradition must be transformed into the new emission-free future. It is unacceptable that sustainable innovations and technologies are only promoted and built up in structurally weak regions with the result that traditional locations first have to be run down in order to be eligible for funding again.
2. Transformation depends on speed. Decisions in industry, but also in politics and administration, must therefore not only be made thoroughly, but also with the necessary speed. Specifically, the processes and working methods required to process funding applications (and of course the capacities) must be designed in such a way that even complex applications can be processed promptly and bindingly.
It is of no use if funding pots are full. The approvals and disbursements must be made in such a way that the funded technology can be developed and brought to market in a timely manner. Politicians can not only set limit values, funding policies must then also ensure that the regulations based on this technology can be complied with in practice.
3. In the current two-stage funding process, German companies first submit the EU funding application to the responsible ministry in Berlin. The application is processed there and then forwarded to the appropriate office in Brussels. In order to speed up the procedure, the preliminary examination carried out in Berlin should also be accepted in Brussels.
In this preliminary check, the responsible body determines the basic eligibility of the application and informs the company of this officially and bindingly. The company can then start at its own risk, while the application continues to be processed in Brussels until final approval. A deadline for final approval should be defined, for example a maximum of three months after the application has been submitted.
The promotion of climate-neutral technologies in the EU can progress faster and more successfully if we have the courage to change. Politics and administration should identify and eliminate weaknesses on both sides in dialogue with industry. Then we can act together and in a focused manner against climate change and maintain the competitiveness of the German and European transport industry globally.
Michael Brecht is Chairman of the General Works Council of Daimler Truck AG and a member of the Supervisory Boards of Daimler Truck and the Mercedes-Benz Group.