TheBigPond - spotlight on what South African business and business people have been up to in Europe. Edited by South African journalist Christo Volschenk from Stuttgart, Germany. Note: This blog has migrated to a new home at www.thebigpond.eu.
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Now you see me, now you don't
Rupert Stadler, new boss of Audi, won't be in the hot seat very long. Definitely not until 2015, when he wants Audi to be "the most environment-friendly manufacturer of luxury cars in the world".
How can you make such a bold prediction at a time when Audi is making the fattest profits in its history, and is obviously on a winning way, I hear you say.
The answer lies in the first sentence above. And in the way Stadler said that sentence.
Financial Times Deutschland (FTD) reported last week Stadler wants to reach the mentioned top spot by "reducing the weight of our cars" and "by improving the engine".
Well, dream on, Mr. Stadler. If that is really the sum-total of your plans for making more environment-friendly cars, your shareholders should get rid of you - and soon. Because you are misjudging the forces at work in the world today and (more importantly) the speed with which these forces are building up momentum.
My guess is: Long before 2015 we'll all be driving in cars with completely different, almost 100% environment-friendly engines.....not "improved fossil-fuel driven engines". If the above is all you intend doing at Audi, it's already clear today that no-one will be driving Audi in 2015.
Back to the "how he said it"....
FTD reported Stadler was "very confident" (read over-confident, bordering on arrogant) at the press conference where he announced a new record profit for Audi. And that Stadler said "threateningly" Brussels won't dare make the CO2 prescriptions to tight for the German car industry...
Stadler seems to be underestimating the speed with which the climate-protection lobby (read anti-pollution lobby) is growing and will grow in the next 5 years - up to a point where it'll be very difficult for any company in any industry to get away with manufacturing processes or products which pollute the environment. And this point will be reached much sooner than most still believe today. And it'll be driven by "the people". In other words, it'll be a world-wide grassroots movement to protect our natural environment.
The sum-total of this will be that people driving environment-unfriendly cars will "leave a bad taste in the mouth of the community", so to speak.
This will, in turn, diminish the car buyer's appetite for big, heavy, fast, luxury cars. (And again: faster than most think).
This appetite will diminish, but probably never vanish...much in the same way as there will always be drug addicts, alcoholics and chain smokers around, long after the community has made strict laws against the consumption of these community-damaging substances.
And this brings me to my central observation, namely that Stadler puts his money (actually the Audi shareholders' money) on a trend which he thinks is here to stay, but is in reality on its way out: the trend towards bigger and faster.
The "faster" will soon (sooner than you think!) be killed off by anti-speeding laws (read maximum limits). And the "bigger" will be taxed out of the water (on the principle: the heavier, the more CO2 is produced, the more tax you pay.)
Impossible, I hear you say, Mr. Stadler. Jep, that's also what the cigarette bosses of the world said 20 years ago when the anti-smoking lobby suggested laws against smoking in public places.
Only difference, this time we're not talking about a product which damages the individual's health (and the passive smokers around him/her), but a product which threatens (human and natural) life as we know it on earth.
So, these steps against "big and fast" will be taken sooner, rather than later. We're certainly not talking of another 20-year period here! Five years will be closer to the mark.
So, you can see why there will be no Mr. Stadler around in 2015. Or no Audi.