Reasonably impressive performance on Saturday evening from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who turned up in Stuttgart to help Daimler celebrate the 125th anniversary of the invention of the automobile (the patent was filed on 29 January 1886).
You’d think that the slickly organised bash, held in Mercedes-Benz’s ultra-impressive museum, would have been little more than a couple of hours of corporate back-slapping. And you’d almost be right.
Names like Michael Schumacher barely made it to the front row of the audience; a ‘happy birthday’ video was packed with tributes from names like Bernie Ecclestone, Sly Stallone, Clint Eastwood and, er, Lionel Richie. Daimler even wheeled out Jutta Benz, great-granddaughter of Karl himself, for a personal appearance.
There was music - Merc found an employee’s son to highlight ‘synergy’ between Daimler’s craftsmanship and that of Steinway pianos - and humour. “There is something exciting about being able to drive a nice open sports car, on a beautiful day, with the wind in your hair,” said Daimler’s follically challenged chairman Dr Dieter Zetsche. “At least, that’s what someone told me…”
But when it came to Merkel’s speech, the huge auditorium was pretty sombre and attentive. Germans, it appears, are concerned about their continued ability to lead the world’s premium car markets. There are worries that cutbacks to education and R&D budgets could kick in, that an ageing population may lack the creative push to bring enough developments to stay at the top of an industry that employs 720,000 of the country’s people.
Merkel knows this. So in contrast to the staunchly neutral position that she took during many of the car industry’s worst moments of the recession, she came out in full support. She even described car manufacturing as “one of the pillars of our affluence”.
“The world is home to seven billion people,” she said, “and they all dream of mobility. There are new, growing markets where the demand for this is even higher.”
“I’m fully optimistic that in 125 years’ time, Germany will still be the leading nation in technology and making progressive cars. But this takes effort. We must be curious and continue to look forwards. Do not stagnate: try to reach new horizons.”
“Germany does face a major challenge,” she admitted, “but overcoming it begins with us identifying our priorities, such as education and research, close co-operation and proper conditions.” “The world,” said Merkel, “is delighted by German inventions but it’s not waiting for them.”
Too right. But being aware of this is probably half the battle.