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In Car-Loving Germany, A New Generation Foregoes Auto Ownership

A new study from Shell shows that changing behavior among younger generations of Germans will eventually lead to fewer cars on the road - and more women behind the wheel.

Cycling along the Spree in Berlin
Cycling along the Spree in Berlin
Birger Nicolai

BERLIN — Changing behavior among younger generations of Germans will eventually lead to fewer cars on the roads here, and to women representing a greater share of the driving public, a new Shell study says.

The study, conducted with the Prognos Institute, predicts that the number of cars operating will begin to fall in the next decade and that the number of women driving will rise in all age groups. If 358 women per 1,000 residents had a car at the end of 2013, that figure will be 414 by the end of 2040. according to the study.

"We're seeing an exchange of roles," Prognos traffic advisor Stefan Rommerskirchen says. "Women are catching up fast in mobility."

One of the major reasons for this is that fewer young people are buying cars, especially men. "Younger men would much rather spend their money on telecommunication devices than on a car," Rommerskirchen says. On the other hand, among older people the number of women is increasing because many older men eventually give up driving.

But the young market is also lost to car manufacturers because lifestyles are changing. Fewer people are starting families, for example, and therefore more of them are staying in the city instead of moving to the suburbs where they would need a car. "We phone instead of driving," Rommerskirchen adds. "Young Germans don't want to be physically mobile to the extent people previously were."

Cycling, car sharing and short-term car rentals will rise to meet their transportation demands. The number of registered clients at providers such as Car2Go and DriveNow is now around one million and rising.

What the study shows generally is that traditional habits are disappearing. "In the future, we won't be seeing the age-typical mobility behavior that we're familiar with today," says Jörg Adolf, Shell's chief economist. Older people are keeping their cars and driving them longer, and young people either don't buy a car at all or drive very little, he says.

Long-term, there will be fewer cars in Germany. According to the study, 2022 will be a peak year in car ownership. After that, the number of cars on German roads will decrease. By 2040, there should be the same number of cars — 42.7 million — as in 2010. The German population is also aging. In 2040, the country is expected to have four million fewer people than it does today.

Cars of the future

The study also examines the engines of the future. It foresees that 90% of motors will be petrol or diesel-fueled in 2040. "There will, however, be a trend towards hybrid cars," says Adolf.

"The reconfiguring of the vehicle population will take place very slowly," he says. On average, cars stay on the road for a good 13 years in Germany before they are deregistered.

Nevertheless, environmental goals and political objectives will be respected: According to German federal government plans, vehicle fleet consumption should fall by 10% by 2020 and by another 40% by 2040. "Cars can easily reach these goals," Adolf says. The main reason for the savings is the increasingly thrifty motors in new cars, and not so mucg a switch on the part of drivers to electric cars, for example.

"We will definitely not have a million electric cars by 2020 as per the federal government target," says Rommerskirchen, who says it is political wishful thinking.

The authors of the study are less pessimistic about reducing pollutant emissions. Germany's climate goals stipulate that there should be 70% fewer carbon dioxide emissions from the traffic sector by 2040. The Shell study calculates they'll achieve some 60% in the automobile sector.

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