Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Car company executives have become shockingly honest about climate change, dwindling natural resources, income inequality and our over-stuffed planet. David Suzuki met Henry Ford and they have become one.

The cynical view here is that auto bosses are spinning us to boost sales. Regardless, BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer says the auto industry has been stuck in a 100-year-plus rut, repeating again and again what it's always done – building faster, bigger and more powerful cars. There is no future in that.

"The car industry has waited well over a century for its own revolution. Today, the wait is over," he said at the world premiere of the i3 electric vehicle in New York.

Story continues below advertisement

Then he stunned us by saying the car business of the 21st century must change, publicly worrying about "global trends such as urbanization and increasing carbon emissions," along with sustainability in overcrowded cities.

BMW points to climate change as reality. The world "is in a state of ecological, economic and social upheaval," with dwindling resources and teeming masses, says BMW.

BMW is not alone. Arch-rival Audi has partnered with Columbia University in what's called "The Extreme Cities Project of the Audi Urban Future Initiative." The problem: PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that in 25 years, nine billion people will be living in urban areas where transit will play a role, but so will personal vehicles of some sort.

"Future mobility is not a question of ideologies," Audi CEO Rupert Stadler said recently. "Thinking ahead is part of our social responsibility."

Ford Motor's executive chairman, Bill Ford, has also voiced concerns about megacities and their infrastructure issues – "not just transportation, but clean water and food distribution." Others, too.

Still, premium German brands have seized on these challenges aggressively. Green Party sensibilities are central to German politics and the country's social conscience. Germany has also built its massive wealth on exporting to the world. German executives have seen the brown skies of Beijing, the packed streets of Mumbai, the economic inequality of Rio de Janeiro and the gridlock of Toronto's Gardiner Expressway.

Germany and its auto industry are figuring out how to remain viable by creating not just cars, but personal transportation "solutions" for megacities on a planet in the early stages of an environmental catastrophe.

Story continues below advertisement

The answer? Many believe the electric car is the future; long-term, I am among them.

The German brands are poised to lead here. Their vehicles command high prices that allow them to sell EVs and plug-in hybrids at a profit. You can find a handful of idealistic green drivers, says KPMG partner Ulrik Andersen, but mass-market consumers are worried mostly about price, battery life, driving range, re-charging and dependability. The premium buyer is not worried about cost and owns several cars. That buyer is happy to show off, making part-time use of an EV.

As Andersen says, EV makers should zero in on moneyed early adopters, suggesting Nissan and General Motors have made the wrong bet with the mainstream Leaf and Volt.

What's certain is that the collective social conscience of an auto industry desperate to reinvent itself is driving its next great business opportunity.

*****

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

Story continues below advertisement

Follow us on Twitter @Globe_Drive.

Add us to your circles.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies