Last week, I spent some time in Germany before and after the Automotive News Europe Congress. The conference was a smashing success, and all the speakers were great.
While I was in Germany, it became very clear why Germans build the best cars in the world. Oh sure, there are some exceptions, and some of those exceptions are wonderful cars. But year in and year out, the German auto industry produces cars that simply excel in engineering, road-holding and performance.
The reason is simple and, from what I hear, there may be some plans afoot to eliminate that competitive advantage.
I'm referring to the absence of speed limits on many of the German autobahns. On thousands of kilometers of German autobahn, you drive as fast as you wish.
And you realize that the Germans have to engineer their automobiles just a little bit better than everyone else. It isn't simply a matter of making an automobile faster. When you realize that your customers will drive your cars at well over 100 mph and will do it regularly, your entire mindset about how to create an automobile changes.
Aside from a Corvette and a Viper, there simply aren't that many American automobiles that would be able to take a continual diet of high speed and all the challenges it places on the entire vehicle.
American and Japanese vehicles simply aren't designed to travel at high speed. There is a cost involved and a culture that doesn't exist outside Germany. Think of the challenges of wind noise at 120 mph. Even if all your customers don't drive that fast, you have to build all the cars as if they will.
Every part of the car must be stronger and must perform better. Everything from lights to brakes must have that type of engineering. It makes German cars different, and it makes the folks who work on them different.
But there may be hope for competitors. There are strong government moves afoot to place a speed limit on all German autobahns. That would be wonderful for all the auto companies that compete against the Germans.
A special product is created from that environment, whether it's an Opel, Ford, VW, Mercedes, BMW or Porsche. Big or small. Sedan or sports car. It probably has to be created within such an environment. You can't tell someone about it.
It's a special place, and it enables the Germans to create special vehicles.