I recently had the opportunity to travel to Munich, Germany, to visit BMW’s headquarters for a showcase of the company’s various projects.
This included a presentation on the sustainable materials the automaker is now sourcing for use in its vehicle interiors, a chance to test drive the new CE 04 electric motorbike, and a visit to BMW’s automotive museum.
I also had time to check out the city of Munich itself and was smacked in the face by just how far apart Germany’s car scene is from our own back in South Africa.
Emerging from the airport, the very first thing you’ll notice is the sheer prevalence of German-made cars from the likes of Volkswagen, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Porsche.
Admittedly, it’s not all that surprising to see a high number of German cars in a German city, but even so, it was interesting that even within the European Union many people stick to vehicles produced within their own countries.
Speaking to the locals, most of whom could speak fluent English, I asked whether there was any sort of tax incentive for buying domestic brands, or whether your typical Audi was cheaper in Germany than it was elsewhere in Europe.
The simple answer, was no. The high number of locally made cars on the streets is patriotism, he said.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you won’t see cars from other countries and, in Munich at least, the second most prevalent country to feature on the roads was Italy.
Since Munich is located in southern Germany, Italy is not too far away, and the result is a not insignificant number of Fiats, a handful of Alfa Romeos, and even a Ferrari or two parked outside a pavement café.
As a South African, the most noticeable absence I found was the lack of Japanese branded cars, especially from Toyota.
Coming from the dusty winter streets of Johannesburg, it felt unusual to look in every direction without spotting a Toyota Hilux or a Corolla Cross.
In fact, there is a noticeable lack of South Africa’s favourite body types across the board, as SUVs, crossovers, and bakkies account for but a tiny fraction of Munich’s traffic.
Naturally, bakkies don’t lend themselves to high-density urban environments like you’ll find in many European cities, but the relative lack of SUVs was also apparent.
Even the likes of the BMW X and Audi Q models are a somewhat rare occurrence, drowned out by the sea of BMW, Audi, and Mercedes sedans.
Curiously, one common practice in Germany is that many people de-badge their cars, removing the insignia on the back bumper designating which model they’re driving.
I asked a local about it, who explained, in his words, that there is “a lack of a bragging culture in Germany.”
People don’t feel the need to show off what model they own, and so they remove their badges so that their 7 Series, to the untrained eye, becomes just one of many BMWs on the streets of Munich, he said.
The prevalence of high-value models, meanwhile, is attributed to the living situation in Munich.
Most citizens live in apartments rather than houses and therefore end up spending a large portion of their income on their car, and the result is that the average vehicle in Munich appears to be less than five years old.
Many cars are valued somewhere in the range of a VW Golf GTI or a BMW 3 Series, with one such illustration being the fact that most taxis are a Mercedes-Benz C-Class – which only becomes available in South Africa from R896,956.
Even though the EU’s ban on internal combustion engines is still more than a decade away, the electric revolution is in full swing in Germany.
My transport from the airport to the hotel took the form of a BMW iX, as hybrid and electric vehicles account for a large portion of Munich’s service fleet.
Every road had at least one electric car, too, ranging from Teslas and Polestars to a Volvo XC40, BMW i4, and a Porshe Taycan, and almost every street had a reserved parking and charge bay for EVs.
Other electric options ranged from a Fiat 500e and Peugeot e-208, to the Toyota BZ4X and Cupra Born, none of which are available locally, and electric scooters are available for hire on every block.
A day on the streets of Munich