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Magazine

Our mission – the future.

... New technologies and environmental responsibility:

WINTERKORN: “We are working very hard to push back technical limits and increase our room to maneuver with new drive concepts. We must ensure that our mobility and our living standards are as environmentally compatible as possible. On the other hand – and this may well be the scientist in me speaking – it is also important to respect our limitations. In the past, some frivolous promises were made regarding the availability of major technical developments such as series-produced fuel-cell vehicles in the near future. The same goes for battery technology. I think it is extremely likely that alternative drive systems will be able to compete with conventional ones. The question is when exactly this will be the case – and that’s difficult to predict. It is a matter of repeatedly examining what is ultimately possible and desirable from a technical point of view and, at the same time, what is economically feasible. We are addressing all these questions – here and now. Ten years ago, for instance, who could have foreseen the great progress that has been made in the field of electronics?”

Hans Wilhelm Schlegel (left), Chief Astronaut at The European Space Agency (ESA) in Houston and Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of Volkswagen AG (photo)

SCHLEGEL: “We must always be aware that the area in which we expect progress is colored by our current viewpoint. No one can really know whether our expectations will actually prove true. Perhaps we will apply findings from other fields of technology, or perhaps various disciplines will unexpectedly merge. A prime example is mechatronics, where mechanical, electronic and IT elements are combined to produce highly efficient systems. We must keep an open mind to the possibility of unexpected solutions.”

WINTERKORN: “Quite right. And I firmly believe that we will find far more efficient technologies in the coming decades, for example technologies that can store and use the sun’s energy. Everything that we use today – be it oil, gas, or biofuels – is ultimately stored solar energy. Our current energy resources are finite. Among other things, this leads to the long-term goal in space travel – of populating Mars.”

“Our world is nothing but a large spaceship. This perspective broadens the view for the international cooperation that is needed to solve global problems.” Hans Wilhelm Schlegel, Chief Astronaut at The European Space Agency (ESA) in Houston (quotation)

SCHLEGEL: “Yes, exactly, energy is the core problem although there is basically enough of it available on Earth. But how can we capture this energy? Is the infrastructure for this available? The formative role of politics comes into play here. Our world can be seen as a large spaceship whose team must agree on common destinations if we are to reach them. This perspective broadens the view for the international cooperation that is needed to solve global problems.”

... The art of finding and leading the right team:

WINTERKORN: “The important thing is being able to trust one another, and to avoid trench warfare. Employees look very closely at whether the top management team can work together. As soon as tensions are sensed, they invariably spread to other levels. Particularly when it comes to cooperation within such an international corporate group as ours, respect and team spirit are important foundations for a constructive working atmosphere. We have to treat each other fairly and decently. But technical and fact-based discussions should be as tough as they need to be, otherwise the goal won’t be reached.”

SCHLEGEL: “In the ISS project, we are learning to work together at an international level for the benefit of all concerned. I for one hope that the Chinese will also come on board. To be successful, you ultimately need a team of people with many different talents for whom reaching a compromise in the interests of the final product is more important than proving themselves right. In your case, the final product is a car; in our case, it is the mission. Successful teamwork does not presume that something will always work just because it worked before. You must always monitor how the original impetus is actually put into practice. That may sound a bit like you’re keeping tabs on things, but in my view it is nothing other than good leadership.”

WINTERKORN: “When things don’t work even though all the right preparations have been made, it is often because there is some sort of conflict between the people responsible for finding the solution. This human element is often capable of making or breaking a project. Because of this, we have always paid very close attention to creating a constructive culture at Volkswagen.”

... Implementing a chosen strategy successfully:

SCHLEGEL: “A classic exercise for a pilot: He inputs the command and must recognize quickly how the system responds. He cannot spend too long looking at one specific area, but must keep track of everything and then input the next command straight away. And while he is fine-tuning this, he must already be thinking ahead. For example, what to do if there is bad weather at the destination airport? This means that he has to monitor everything constantly – in other words he has to keep his finger on the pulse of events. I have great admiration for managers who are able to do this successfully and flawlessly, as I know well how easy it is to overlook small aspects that later prove to be decisive.”

WINTERKORN: “That is an image I can identify with.”

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
www.volkswagenag.com

AUTHOR
Dirk Maxeiner

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