Mobility-Interview mit VDA-Präsidentin Müller

The VDA President emphasized the importance of standards for companies as well as for customers and consumers.

| Vadim Motov / German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA)
2023-12-12 Webcontent

“The SME forum for suppliers showed that the industry is facing a challenging and in many cases serious situation”

Hildegard Müller, President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), sees her industry and society as a whole facing a huge transformation, driven by electromobility, digitalization, new technologies and megatrends. In an interview with Dr. Ralf Petri, Head of VDE Mobility, Müller explains what is particularly important in the current time of overlapping crises.

VDE: Ms. Müller, what was your first car, and what emotions and experiences do you associate with it?  

Müller: “My first car was a fairly old, second-hand Golf that I got at the beginning of my studies. The car allowed me to get around and to do and experience a lot of things. I was already active in various organizations at the time, and the car helped me juggle all these activities.” 

VDE: In my case, it was an old Opel Corsa that my mother and I drove. What about today? Did you come to our appointment by car or train? 

Müller: “Today I came by car because we're about to set off on a business trip and we have to take luggage and employees with us. But I generally use all modes of transport and I choose whichever is more practical.” 

VDE: Let's move on to standardization work, where the VDA is very active. It's no secret that VDE and VDA often work together in this area. Do you have a favorite standard? 

Müller: “Well, to be honest, I don't have a favorite standard (laughs). However, I do think that standardization work is very important. Standards offer clarity and certainty. Clarity for companies, so that they have a frame of reference. Certainty for customers, so that trust can be established. The centrality of standards to the German automotive industry became clear this year at the IAA MOBILITY in Munich. I think the way standards are evolving, for example to reflect digitalization, is very exciting. Thanks to the work we do and our cooperation with VDE, we can support development processes and provide that clarity and certainty very quickly.” 

Dr. Ralf Petri
Ylber Azemi

“It’s imperative that politicians lay the groundwork, such as an expanded charging infrastructure”

VDE: How do you see our role with regard to China in this context? 

Müller: “China is a growing market and is approaching these issues with great self-confidence. But we too are ambitious, and we want to stay ahead. I'm very confident we'll achieve that, not least because the German automotive industry is still very innovative and can certainly hold its own. What we as the German automotive industry have to do now is to maintain and increase our international competitiveness.” 

VDE: Let's take a brief look at your career. It's been a very varied one. You started out in a bank, you have worked in politics, in an association, in the corporate sector. What experiences have you gained and why did you choose this path? 

Müller: “My time in politics was something I was very passionate about, and I'm certainly still political today. I'm concerned about many of the issues that are currently affecting us and follow them closely. We need active involvement from all parts of society for the sake of democracy and stability. But I always intended to return to the business world after my time in politics. Before the automotive industry, I worked in the energy sector. All these different roles have given me a great understanding of different perspectives. In complex times, it's not enough to know your own point of view; you also need to understand the needs of others. For the transformation to climate-neutral mobility, for example, this means that we as an industry supply the products. At the same time, politicians must lay the groundwork, for example by properly expanding charging infrastructure. Everyone has to grasp what matters to others.” 

VDE: What do you think about the element of chance – or did you have everything planned out? 

Müller: “If I had followed a career pattern advised by someone else, my life wouldn't have worked out as it did. It's always a mixture of enjoying something and finding the right moment to take the next step. Hard work, chance and luck are of course also part of it. In my case, being open to ideas and sometimes to the unexpected has led to this career.” 

Hildegard Müller: A great partnership: VDA and VDE are working together on climate-neutral mobility.

Hildegard Müller: A great partnership: VDA and VDE are working together on climate-neutral mobility.

| Copyright: Vadim Motov / German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA)

"One thing is clear; the future of mobility will be climate-neutral."

VDE: Can you give us an overview of the current challenges facing the German automotive industry? 

Müller: “Our recent SME forum for suppliers showed that the industry is facing a challenging and in many cases serious situation. As I said, we are going through a huge transformation, driven by e-mobility, digitalization, new technologies and various megatrends. At the same time, politicians too often lack innovative ideas and long-term strategies for German and European industry. We're also experiencing overlapping crises with the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the consequences of the terrorist attack by Hamas. We don't know how the situation in the Middle East will develop, with all its consequences for domestic and foreign policy. All of this is causing a great deal of stress and uncertainty and stretching systems to their limits and beyond.” 

VDE: What is the VDA's vision for the mobility of the future? 

Müller: “One thing is clear; the future of mobility will be climate-neutral. The industry is working hard to achieve this and is fully committed. Mobility of the future will also be digital and connected. This offers great potential to cut CO2 emissions and great opportunities for consumers to make cars even safer and more user-friendly.” 

VDE: Climate-neutral can mean many things. What do you have in mind for private cars? 

Müller: “In terms of Europe and other lead markets, it will be e-mobility. We will supply the products. But the expansion of charging infrastructure is absolutely essential to encourage people to switch and win them over. If the infrastructure and product range are right, we will see things really picking up. This is essential for climate-neutral mobility.” 

VDE: What other opportunities do you see with regard to diversifying engine technology, global development and different needs? 

Müller: For heavy trans-European trucks, for example, the hydrogen fuel cell is definitely an option. If we're talking about climate neutrality in transport, we also need to look at existing vehicles. If we achieve the target of 15 million electric cars in Germany by 2030, we will still have more than 30 million cars with combustion engines, 280 million in the EU and around 1.5 billion vehicles worldwide. In my view, synthetic fuels are therefore a vital option. My advice is not to allow today's knowledge to block innovations for the future. We need to be open to technology and monitor the raw material and infrastructure developments that are needed for all solutions.” 

VDE: Hand on heart, how do you see the German automotive industry in the face of global competition? 

Müller: “We're in a better position than your question implies. We saw over 300 world firsts at the recent IAA MOBILITY event in Munich. The German automotive industry was right at the forefront. Sure, there are differences in focus, including from region to region. But when I see how far we've come in autonomous driving, digitalization or power electronics and how many outstanding engineers we still have, then I think we're very well placed to compete. I say this with conviction, because the fact is that we will be investing around 250 billion euros in research and development over the next few years and a further 130 billion euros in the conversion of vehicle factories. With this wave of investment, car manufacturers are clearly demonstrating that they want to remain at the forefront.” 

“We have to decide how to keep Europe competitive as a continent”

VDE: I'd like to ask one more question about this. In the past, Germany's core expertise was the engine and powertrain. Today, key components such as the battery come from Asia. It’s one of the most cost-intensive parts of the vehicle. Isn't it a little worrying that this expertise is located elsewhere? 

Müller: “Of course, other regions want to develop their own markets. That will make competition tougher, because we have growing economies. But competition is also good news for the consumer, it's worth emphasizing. But let's come back to the groundwork; what is the environment like for innovation? How quickly does the government make decisions? Can we produce the important battery cells here if we pursue an energy policy that is not competitive internationally?  

The German automotive industry has always been aware that it operates in global markets – around 70 percent of our jobs in Germany depend on exports. There is an international division of labor, which is a good thing and leads to growth, prosperity and open markets overall. But if protectionism returns, we need to consider how competitive Germany is as a business location. We need to become faster and more resolute, we need to pursue an energy policy that provides more energy. Germany invests a lot, but too often the focus is on combating symptoms without addressing their causes. Europe must also find its own way. While the USA has the Inflation Reduction Act and China works with direct subsidies, the EU too often relies on regulation. We need to find our own approach and decide how to keep Europe competitive as a continent.” 

VDE: Let's turn the focus from the world back once again to the product. We have many vehicles on the roads and many people who cannot afford a new vehicle for 40,000 or 50,000 euros. If you look around the market, there is almost nothing on offer for less than 30,000 euros. 

Müller: “First of all, I can think of some models under 30,000 euros, but I don't want to explicitly promote individual suppliers here. You have to bear in mind that we have certain expectations when it comes to the modernity, safety, efficiency and comfort of a car and that we are in the middle of a transformation phase. This means it takes high development costs and investments in converting factories before we can produce on a massive scale. However, we hope that electric cars will become cheaper than those with a combustion engine.  

We're aware that this is also a hot social and political topic at the moment, which is why we have criticized the German government for cutting subsidies for electric cars. I'm certainly not calling for subsidies for the automotive industry. But politicians must consider how they can support consumers. The accusation that we are only targeting the premium segment is definitely wrong. Our goal is also clearly to provide products for the mass market.” 

VDE: As we come to the end of the interview, let's talk about the cooperation between VDE and VDA. What are your thoughts on this? 

Müller: “I see our cooperation as very positive. We have the same goal, climate-neutral mobility, and we complement each other very well with our expertise. We work well together not only on the here and now, but also on future topics such as the standardization roadmap for hydrogen technologies. So thank you very much for this great working relationship.” 

VDE: Last question: what advice can you give young people for their future? 

Müller: “I believe that in a diverse world, you definitely have to be open. You should network, including with other industries, because that's how you get a lot of inspiration, ideas and tips. Sometimes you hear something exciting that you hadn't even thought of. Of course, there are classic career paths, which is also a good thing. My advice is to listen to your gut feelings and be prepared to start something new. Enthusiasm, passion and commitment are of course part of it. Maybe I can bang the drum for my organization at this point (laughs). We are always looking for motivated, committed young people who are enthusiastic about climate-neutral and digital mobility.” 

Ms. Müller, thank you very much for the interview. 

VDE Mobility Interviews

Alexander Lutz (l.) in interview with Dr. Ralf Petri (r.)

Alexander Lutz (l.) in interview with Dr. Ralf Petri (r.)


The mobility industry is in a state of upheaval: New players and new concepts are entering the market, and digitization is also providing new impetus. Dr. Ralf Petri, Head of the Mobility Division at the VDE, discusses opportunities and challenges for the industry with well-known representatives from the mobility sector.

To the interviews