A World Without Oil: Companies Prepare for a Fossil-Free Future
Drivers may hate rising gas prices, but some companies are delighted as they watch the oil price soar. Firms like BMW and Airbus which are leaders in fuel efficiency actually benefit from expensive oil. They are just two of a growing number of companies that are already developing technologies for a post-fossil-fuel world. By SPIEGEL Staff
A few cents more and a liter of super unleaded gasoline will cost German drivers €1.80 (around $9 a gallon). That means that someone driving a BMW 3 Series will have to pay over €110 ($150) to fill up the tank, with its 63 liter (17 gallon) capacity.
But Norbert Reithofer, the CEO of BMW, seems surprisingly relaxed for an executive whose company’s products depend on gasoline and diesel. “One could see this as a threat,” Reithofer says. But the auto executive actually views the rising price of fuel as “an opportunity.” He is convinced that his company will in fact “derive a benefit from this.”
The Munich-based automaker has invested billions of euros in fuel-saving technologies, such as efficient engines, brake energy recovery and ultra-lightweight carbon fiber car bodies. BMW is now considered a leader in the field, and the company’s record sales in 2011 suggest that this is something its customers are willing to pay for. And that, Reithofer believes, is why the company will ultimately benefit from high prices at the pump.
Airbus CEO Tom Enders uses a similar argument. He ought to be upset about high kerosene prices. They have sharply affected his customers, the airlines, whose profits are shrinking and who are investing less money in buying new planes as a result. Nevertheless, Airbus has never had as many orders on its books as it does today.
Last year, Airbus received well over 1,000 orders for its A320 neo model, with scheduled delivery starting in 2015. Thanks to new engines and special wings, the plane uses about 15 percent less fuel, making it significantly more fuel-efficient than competitor Boeing’s comparable models. This is a critical selling argument in times of high kerosene prices, says Enders. “To a certain extent, we do benefit from the high price of oil,” he adds.
Addicted to Oil
This is certainly one way of looking at things. Drivers are upset about the record high prices at the pump. But on the positive side, they also force companies to change the way they are using the increasingly precious commodity, so that they consume it more consciously and not as wastefully. And that change is necessary.
The world is addicted to a material that is being used up from day to day and from hour to hour, a material that is also much too valuable to be burned. The prosperity of the human race is based on limited resources. Most people know this, and yet they refuse to accept the necessary consequence: reducing their use of fossil fuels.
The record high prices for gasoline are probably the most effective incentive for us to finally kick the oil habit and search for alternatives. And they are fueling the modernization of the economy in the process.
The withdrawal will undoubtedly be tough. The economy will be affected when it is deprived of its lubricant. But consumers and business owners have no choice, and the longer they delay, the more painful the transition will be.