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The vintage car detective


Original article: PRINT MAGAZINE

The great freedom

Both are on four wheels - that's all they have in common for now. Vehicle technology engineer Laura Kukuk is in demand worldwide as an expert on classic cars and is convinced of their sustainability. Daniel Zellinger from FlixBus swears by modern buses as a more environmentally friendly alternative to cars. Where is the journey going? To the same destination, actually. A conversation about the mobility of tomorrow.

Let's climb into the back seat of your childhood car for a moment. What do you remember?

Daniel Zellinger: My parents owned an Opel, which we often drove to my grandparents' house. We children brought our cassettes with us, which were constantly rewound back and forth because we always wanted to hear the same songs.

Laura Kukuk: Classic cars have always been everyday vehicles for us. In addition to the Topolino in the local area, we also went on skiing holidays in our former original 911. My father had four-point seat belts specially made so that we children could sit in the back. The luggage was stored on the passenger seat, the skis were attached to the back of the car body and off we went. 

And what comes to mind when you think back to your first coach journey?

Daniel Zellinger: I was twelve years old and went on a language trip to Plymouth, England. The buses looked a bit different than they do today, but I thought it was great: the first time travelling without parents, and then the bus also went on the ferry.

Laura Kukuk: I remember school trips, and later my first holiday with friends in the south of France. There was always a good sense of community on these trips, you got talking to your neighbours, shared snacks, waited in line together at the service station.  

The cool kids usually sat in the back row. Where did you sit?

Laura Kukuk: Always in the thick of it.

Daniel Zellinger: At the back. But actually only because I liked it best there. 

Is there a bus cliché that really annoys you?

Daniel Zellinger: It annoys me that travelling by bus is always perceived as dirty. People often talk about smelly diesel engines, but that's not true. Almost all of our buses are equipped with new Euro 6 engines and, compared to city buses, they are also very well utilised. So the amount of CO2-emissions is really extremely low.  

Laura Kukuk: This prejudice also persists when people talk about classic cars - because they don't look at the entire chain. A classic car is the most sustainable thing you can drive. If a vehicle has at least 30 years under its belt and is still in good condition, it is already sustainable. In addition, the components are usually extensively overhauled and restored instead of a cheaper and less sustainable replacement with a new part. Today, if the engine is damaged, it is immediately replaced with a new engine. With a classic car, the first step is always to overhaul the engine.

What is an absolute no-go for you when it comes to mobility?

Daniel Zellinger: Short-haul flights within Germany.

Laura Kukuk: But there are also sins on the road: driving an eight-cylinder SUV in the city, first to nursery school and then to yoga. If you're travelling in urban city traffic, where there are hardly any parking options, and then with this large engine, which is not at all made for short journeys, it's completely absurd. Unfortunately, a lot of SUVs are still being sold and they are simply not sustainable at all.

Will this trend reverse again?  

Laura Kukuk: I believe that smaller vehicles will continue to boom with e-mobility because the size also has an impact on the range. Let's take these new car batteries that you can swap out if there is no charging station nearby. Not the best solution, but a good interim solution. And it only works because the batteries are so small. Which brings us back to smaller vehicles.    

Keyword: Alternative drive technologies. What does it look like at Flix?

Daniel Zellinger: This year, we are starting a trial with liquid biogas and will have a double-digit number of vehicles running on it in selected European countries. But no matter which fuel we are talking about, we are always concerned with the same questions: Where does it come from? What is its composition? Which fuel is subsidised in which country and how, what does the infrastructure look like? This is a huge challenge because our fleet is spread across so many different countries.   

Which drives are you still testing?

Daniel Zellinger: In addition to hydrogen drive and solar panels for energy generation, we have also trialled battery buses, but have realised that we cannot use them on long routes due to the lack of infrastructure - not yet. When it comes to transforming our fleet, there won't be one answer that solves all the problems; it will initially come down to a mix of technologies. The important thing is that we get started immediately. The longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to implement.  

Apart from your job - how do you personally define sustainable mobility?  

Daniel Zellinger: For me, the collective use of transport takes centre stage. In other words, sharing vehicles when and where possible. That can be a lot of fun. In general, you can achieve a lot if you really travel consciously and try to choose the more sustainable means of transport.

Laura Kukuk: Collectively or sharing, because it is simply efficient and sustainable. Especially in urban centres, we will probably have no choice but to share means of transport. As a lecturer at Cologne University of Applied Sciences, I am always involved in forward-looking and sustainable projects relating to the future of mobility. Here we research and develop concepts and strategies for the mobility of tomorrow, holistically and globally.

Hand on heart, would you lend out your beloved Baby-Benz?

Laura Kukuk: Why not? But preferably to someone who also appreciates this vehicle. Incidentally, I'm not the only one - there are now even sharing platforms for classic cars.

I am an advocate of automotive cultural heritage and therefore I also have a responsibility to pass on this enthusiasm and the cultural aspects - often this is best done "behind the wheel" to experience the vehicle and the technology

They often have to deal with valuable old cars. do. How much do owners care about climate protection?

Laura Kukuk: Many of my customers are fascinated by future technologies, especially with a focus on a sustainable future. On the one hand, they cherish tradition and love to drive their old car completely without technical support. But at the same time, they are also forward-looking with alternative drive technologies. I believe that most of these enthusiasts are just as fascinated by the technology as they are by their interest in cars - and don't need to be vehemently attached to their classic cars.  

Let's leap into the future: how important is digitalisation for a successful transport transition?

Daniel Zellinger: It is crucial for the use of collective transport. Attractive offers alone are not enough, they also need to be planned smartly - it's not for nothing that the tech department is the largest division at Flix. We need to know: What do customers really want? Or: What is the smartest way to connect the vehicles with each other? Where is there an opportunity for a refuelling stop? This will become increasingly important, especially in the future, because it naturally takes longer to charge a battery. And what if the bus arrives a little late and there is no plug available?

Laura Kukuk: A smooth transition between modes of transport is important. When I arrive at the station and want to continue my journey by bus, it has to be waiting there. Ideally, VR glasses linked to an app will guide me through the station to the bus stop, the ticket has already been paid for and I don't have to worry about whether I'll even catch the bus. This experience has to be positive. If I stand there for two hours waiting, I'll never do it again.   

Whether on social media or in the corner pub, things get heated everywhere as soon as terms like "speed limit" or "cargo bike" are mentioned. How do you explain the fact that the issue of individual mobility is so emotionally charged?

Daniel Zellinger: This is probably because many people feel that something is being taken away from them. However, bans are the wrong way to get people to rethink their behaviour. It is more important to offer good and reliable alternatives.

Laura Kukuk: You have to create solutions and pave the way. Honestly, nobody likes being stuck in traffic jams. But if I were a commuter and knew that the train would leave on time from my front door and that a bike would be waiting for me for the last mile, I would change trains immediately. Anyone would do that.

To what extent could politicians intervene to provide support - without imposing bans?

Daniel Zellinger: Sometimes a little more flexibility would be desirable. One example: In Cologne, our buses are not allowed to stop in the city centre. This means that people first have to drive out of the city centre to get to the bus stop and then, when in doubt, get back into their car instead of taking the bus. Politicians could do something about this. In general, we already have very big hurdles in Germany when it comes to regulations. When I see my colleagues here in Berlin juggling stacks of paperwork, I really have to shake my head. The advantage is that we are ideally positioned for work in other countries. Because we know: it can't get any more complicated than this.

At the photo shoot, the cuddly Classic Mini immediately captured everyone's hearts. And yet: is everyday mobility with combustion engines still justifiable?

Laura Kukuk: Of course. We must not become so rigid and cling to the one right solution. Bans are being imposed here too, the 2035 ban on combustion engines has been passed, but there are no promising alternatives with a functioning infrastructure. At least for the transition period, before the infrastructure for other drive technologies is in place, we should look at which solution makes sense in which place - and not cancel means of transport from the outset. Generally speaking, when we talk about the mobility of tomorrow, we have to talk about the mobility of yesterday. The automobile has shaped our society, it was invented here and has spawned one of the strongest industries. Just think back to the 1950s, when everyone drove off in VW Beetles and enjoyed the new-found sense of freedom. We can't just say: OK, let's forget this history that has shaped our society. The car is a cultural asset. And when we plan the mobility of the future, we have to ask ourselves: where do we come from, where do we want to go? A turnaround in transport will only succeed if we keep this history alive and think ahead.  

Laura Kukuks Her view of classic cars is mercilessly analytical. As a globally sought-after automotive expert, she often inspects vehicles worth millions. To do this, she uses an ultrasound device, endoscope and spectroscope, takes material and oil samples, and checks the frame, spot welds and serial numbers. "Like an automotive Sherlock Holmes," she laughs. While she was still studying automotive engineering, she worked as a development engineer at McLaren Automotive in England and at the same time, since her school days, in her father's engineering office. Dipl.-Ing. Klaus Kukuk is a renowned automotive expert and instilled a love of classic cars in his daughter. Today, together with her father, she runs the engineering office that was founded almost 40 years ago and, together with her 10 employees, works all over the world. The Rhinelander is particularly fond of her first car, a 1988 Mercedes 190, also known as a baby Benz "I sold it in the meantime, but I missed it so much that I bought it back."

Daniel Zellinger is the team leader for fleet strategy at FlixMobility GmbH, where he works full-time on the future of travelling. With FlixBus and FlixTrain, the Munich-based start-up has conquered both the tarmac and the rails over the last ten years. The speciality: Instead of building up its own fleet of vehicles, Flix relies on co-operations with bus operators. "We take care of demand-orientated network planning, marketing and ticket sales," explains Daniel Zellinger: "And our partners make sure that everything works operationally and provide vehicles and drivers." The 1000 Greyhound buses that the company purchased two years ago are an exception. Today, more than 4,000 Flix buses travel to over 5,500 destinations in 40 European and American countries. However, these figures will soon increase, as FlixBus is planning to enter the Indian market in 2024.


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