Volkswagen’s new car plant is located more or less in the center of Dresden, Germany. Through its glass shell, you can watch the fitters from the street as they work at the production line. On another storey, robots spray the car bodies in bright colors without a single splash of paint winding up on any of the windows. Back in the twentieth century, it was customary to push factories beyond the city limits because they were too dirty to share our living environment. Today, clean, attractive, and compact factories are finding their way back. Production techniques have reached such a state of perfection that we’re eager for them to be seen. Factories and houses can once again stand side by side. A hundred kilometers away in Leipzig, BMW has also made a symbol of this kind of modern, clean manufacturing. The production line at the company’s new plant runs straight through the cafeteria. Cars float above the tables as lunch is served below. The automotive industry’s production techniques are every bit as clean nowadays as those of the firms providing the food on the workers’ plates. Cars are only one example, but they are an icon of our industry. Every last detail of their production process has indeed been finetuned. Yet the cleanness of its production is only superficial. It hasn’t resulted in the perfect car. Far from it: Motor vehicles continue to impose an ever-heavier burden on the environment. It takes more raw materials to produce one now than it did 20 years ago, and cars still use the same amount of fuel for every kilometer they travel. That simply can’t continue if we still want to visit friends on the other side of the country two decades from now. Breakthroughs are needed that will make cars more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. And the same goes for other modes of transport, such as trains, aircraft, and ships. Apart from further inventions, we’re going to need entirely new materials, construction methods, and production techniques if the boundaries are truly to shift.
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