Interview Christof Horn


Disruption in the automotive industry

Five questions about the future of mobility – Christof Horn

The car industry is searching for meaning – says Christof Horn, CEO Automotive & Transformation with umlaut. He analyses the tipping points for an industry beset by the diesel scandal and Fridays for Future, electric propulsion and self-driving cars. We reach him on his hands-free system: five questions about the future of the car, with the A7 motorway in the rear-view mirror.

Early 2019, and more vehicles with diesel engines were being sold again in Germany for the first time since the emissions scandal. How can that be – despite all the promises about sustainability?

First of all, modern diesel engines have excellent emission values. Unfortunately, heated public debates aren't always about the facts. What's more, a lot of manufacturers hadn’t launched new hybrid or electric models yet – particularly in SUVs, which are still in big demand. Given these facts, a new diesel could be the best compromise in terms of performance and CO2emissions.

Why do so many changes seem to be coming along slowly?

The automotive industry is in the middle of the toughest phase it has seen for a long time. It's not just the technological challenges such as new power technologies or vehicle-to-vehicle networking. Added to those there’s the digitalisation of business models. All this is happening at once, and happening very fast. The industry’s success over the past few years is a hurdle for the future at the same time. All attempts at new business models so far haven’t been economically successful to the same extent. As a result, many players are in search of meaning: will the car still be the core product? Mobility as a service? Or a mix of the two?

So, can a new vehicle model be the answer to social questions – such as the transition to sustainable transport? Or does that require the industry to change its thinking generally?

At the moment, major alliances are being formed so as to share the burden of developing automated driving and to build the charging infrastructure. The big companies are having to invest a lot here, in expensive sensor technology for example, and they have to establish knowledge transfer and enter into cooperations. That’s difficult for some established manufacturers. Their organisations are still trying to protect themselves from change and evade risky decisions in some cases, but these decisions are essential. For technical innovations such as , you invariably also need to put organisational innovations in place and part with a lot of traditions.

A propos tradition: maximising engine size and road speed is a concept now under critical scrutiny even in car-loving Germany. What are the new values of the road?

New customers today are more impressed by connectivity and the digital experience. Half the world’s population lives in big cities, where owning cars has becoming incredibly uncomfortable. Cars are totally penalised in the big cities. As a result, people’s emotional ties with their cars are disappearing more and more. That means that manufacturers’ criteria for competitive differentiation are changing. Platforms and services such as Uber or DiDi are pushing their way into the original value chain. For customers, experience is becoming more important than ownership.

Where do you see the world of cars in five years’ time?

Nobody can know what will happen five years out. I’ll give you two hunches: electric mobility is not going to go away. The social and political pressure in some core markets will lead to advances in e-vehicles, which only makes sense in line with the availability and cost-efficiency of green electricity. The second is: the first automatic driving solutions will be on the road. We’ll have partial solutions such as hub-to-hub transport with autonomous trucks and fully automated valet parking – and we’ll also see self-driving vehicles on motorways. In the light of its highly regulated approach, China will undoubtedly be one of the front runners.


Christof Horn

CEO Automotive & Transformation


+49 163 4045056