Is Germany still competitive? VDI: Representative survey of the population shows alarming picture of future location

May 25, 2023

“The population has considerable doubts about Germany’s competitiveness. With regard to technical innovations, Germany is obviously in a bad way”, says VDI Director Adrian Willig about the result of a current representative population survey* of the VDI, conducted by VDI/VDE Innovation + Technik GmbH.

The VDI surveyed the population – with frightening findings. Photo: Kamber

Willig finds it extremely worrying that only 9% think Germany is currently very competitive in the development of new technologies. Overall, only a slim majority (54.2%) consider Germany to be at least somewhat competitive. “This means that the German population has little confidence in the country’s competitiveness,” says Willig.

Alarming is the respondents’ perspective on the automotive sector as the country’s essential key industry. More than half of the respondents (55 %) do not believe that the best cars in the world will still come from Germany in 10 or 15 years. VDI Director Willig continues: “Against the background of the structural importance of the automotive industry for the German innovation system, this is an alarming signal.”

Germany as a location for the future: population shows uncertainty

When asked whether Germany will still be one of the world’s leading innovation locations in 2035, only 13 % of the respondents answered “yes”. There is obviously considerable uncertainty among Germans about the future prospects. Only a good one in ten is sure that Germany will play a leading role in the world in 2035.

Willig emphasises that the VDI survey did not only reveal negative images of the future. “The population sees Germany’s strengths above all in traditional values of an industry “Made in Germany”.” Two out of three Germans also consider technologies developed here to be particularly sustainable. “But Germany is too slow,” Adrian Willig classifies. Only 23% think that Germany develops technologies particularly quickly and brings them to market quickly. Half (54%) consider technologies developed in Germany to be particularly innovative and novel.

Dr. Robert Peters, futurologist and policy advisor at VDI/VDE Innovation + Technik GmbH, responsible for preparing the survey, adds: “The bad news for the German government is that it has so far been doing nothing but a good job: In the eyes of the population, it is not doing enough to strengthen innovation and secure prosperity. The good news, however, is that if the state helps to ensure that the economy and society embark on a transformation path that is open to technology, the government and parliament have the population on their side.”

Innovative technology generates prosperity

VDI President Prof. Dr. Lutz Eckstein on the results of the survey: “First of all, it should be noted that the respondents are well aware of the major challenges facing our society. The investments of large German companies in other economic areas such as the USA or China and the relocation of technology development and production abroad are a clear signal that several location factors in Germany are no longer right: the energy supply is fraught with uncertainties, the energy costs are higher by a factor of 5 compared to competing economic areas, the shortage of skilled workers is increasing and the approval processes are too lengthy in many areas.”

Fortunately, the representative survey shows that the population has recognised how important technological innovations are for our prosperity, but also for our society as a whole, Eckstein continues. “And this is where we engineers come in – because we develop the urgently needed technical innovations that result in diverse products and efficient processes and production methods.”

Challenges are global in nature – and hold opportunities

“But we must also be aware that the current challenges are global in nature and cannot be solved in a sprint in a few years, but over a period of decades – comparable to a marathon, in which one should start fit and manage one’s strength well. The opportunity for our science and business location lies in not only developing and producing the globally necessary technologies for the generation of sustainable energy sources, for storage as well as for transport and finally for conversion into power and heat, but also exporting them to places where they are at least as necessary as here in Germany,” says the VDI President.

The VDI shapes the future – independently and in the long term

In view of the great time constancy of this transformation on the one hand and the short-term clocking of large parts of politics and listed companies measured against it, a completely independent organisation like the VDI has a special role and responsibility: to decisively help shape the future of our science and business location with a long-term perspective.

“We are increasingly observing a polarising, sometimes far too little fact-based discussion in our society, which turns a lot of energy and commitment into frictional heat. We want to get away from this by developing a positive target image of our science and business location and being open regarding the ways we get there. We work with alternative scenarios and allow for all technologies and perspectives – but each of the solution paths is technically sound and viable,” says Eckstein. “

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