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Focus on the Essentials

Christian Malorny is one of the automotive industry’s most influential consultants – and he deals primarily with the increasing complexity of demands, solutions and vehicles. That is precisely why he is so fascinated by the simplicity of a Kleinschnittger F125 or a Messerschmitt Tiger. Malorny graciously invited us to his garage in the Berlin district of Grunewald

Text: Michael Köckritz Photo: David Breun 24.06.2020 11 min

We want to know something about your cars, but maybe we will start with a question about you first. Who are you, Mr. Malorny?

Christian Malorny: I am a car enthusiast. Even at an early age, I was interested in any kind of part you can screw on and off of a car. I cultivated my love even further during my mechanical engineering studies while restoring my first car, a Goggomobil TS 250 coupe. And I consider it a luxury that my profession now is in the automotive industry.

Another simple question: What do you say when asked what you do for a living?

I run the global automotive business for the consulting firm A. T. Kearney. We are active worldwide helping organizations and companies to become even better.

You could say that. With the changes we are seeing in the automotive industry at the moment, it is important to look outward at the jungle of requirements and regulations. We also want to find out how much we are willing to spend on mobility. So cost is also a factor. An attractive product at an affordable price should be able to drum up enthusiastic buyers.

You appreciate simple, wonderfully purist cars. What makes them so fascinating?

In principle, we are still struggling today with how to get from A to B in a simple way. New requirements in this area have arisen over the past several decades. Catchphrases include emissions standards, safety, service life, functionality and also convenience. The solutions have become correspondingly complex. Today, a car is made up of ten to fifteen thousand parts. A combustion engine has about two-and-a-half thousand parts. Right now, we are facing a whole new level of complexity, because the amount of software in cars is expected to increase enormously over the next ten years, resulting from the number of codes and from the number of possibilities for interconnecting codes. A completely new world is evolving. Interestingly enough, there is also a relief in sight on the hardware side. At just 250, an electric motor has ten times fewer parts than a combustion engine.

Let’s go back a few steps. Is there a car that is particularly minimalist?

The smallest production vehicle in Germany was the Kleinschnittger F125, which weighs around 170 kilos and has a 6.5 hp, two-stroke engine and cable brakes. Rubber bands provide suspension for the aluminum body. It has three forward gears, no reverse and air-filled bicycle tires. This car is made of 350 parts and can drive 70 kilometers per hour. But: There is practically zero crash safety and very little emission control. Comfort is necessarily secondary, because this car allows its occupants to feel every stone and every little dip in the road. But it gets you from A to B, thereby meeting this basic requirement.

That also goes for your Messerschmitt Cabin Scooter.

That’s exactly right. The Messerschmitt is one of the small cars made in the post-war era, like the BMW Isetta and a whole series of very rare cars that are largely unknown today, such as the Champion 400, the Kleinschnittger F125 or the Messerschmidt Tiger. In Germany, we learned mobility with these cars, and our first trips across the Alps to Italy awakened Germans’ joy of travelling.

Why is driving small cars so much fun?

Small cars – and I would include the 356 in this category – make do without any built-in reserves. They are light, agile, hug the road and almost always work at the limit of their performance. They are fragile beings that you have to know well. Otherwise you’d be constantly afraid they wouldn’t make it – the next hill, the next bend or just the bumpy cobblestone road. The body twists, the engine works at high revs, and as a driver you’re always listening to the car. It’s wonderful, because the driver and the machine become one.

How do you feel when you drive these cars?
I’m fascinated by their simplicity. With the Kleinschnittger, you’re always worrying that something is going to fall apart even at 20 or 30 kilometers an hour. Your eyes are on the traffic, and your ears are trained on the car itself. Basically, you can hear every tire noise, every engine noise. Are all the parts still attached? Is the car okay? What do I have to watch out for in order to keep the car moving? By the way, even a Porsche 356 is a comparatively simple car that weighs only 700 kilos. Because of its lightweight construction, the Porsche doesn’t need a lot of horsepower. The 60 hp engine is simple, being outfitted with only one carburetor. The chassis pulls no punches, and the body is light. That’s why I also consider the 356 to be a small car.

So you always have to be on high alert.

You have to be very concentrated, very attentive while driving. Also very aware of your surroundings, because you can easily be overlooked on the road. It’s a bit like riding a bicycle: you always have to do the thinking for the people around you. And you wonder: Can other drivers see me? How much space do I have to leave between us at the red light so that he can even see me in the rearview mirror? These cars simply get lost among today’s hulking SUVs. That’s also why you must always deploy all of your senses when driving. It’s very intense. It’s a great deal of fun, because as a driver you become one with the machine for a little while. As a driver, you can understand the car’s sufferings or even its joy when everything is going well. And as a driver, I’m also incredibly happy to take my small cars out for a spin and happy when they make it back to the garage safely.

Do you tinker with the cars yourself?

Of course. With two-stroke engines, there’s always something that needs fixing. Change the fuel filter, seal the fuel taps, change the spark plugs regularly. Grease the cable brakes so that the cables don’t break. They require a great deal of upkeep. The operating instructions recommend monthly maintenance. When small cars go longer without being driven, they require even more attention. Sometimes you have to remove and clean the exhaust to regain power.

Do you have to be a trained mechanic?

No, it’s no problem even for an inexperienced tinkerer. Imagine the car like a Lego kit. The repair manual typically has about two hundred pages, describing all of the parts and how they are assembled. With a little technical understanding, it’s highly doable.

“At some point we will ask ourselves how we could have allowed humans behind the wheel at all.”
Christian Malorny

Now switching gears, what do you think about self-driving cars?

Self-driving cars will catapult society into a completely different age of mobility. Today we cannot even imagine the changes autonomous driving will unleash. Some things will disappear from our roadways. We won’t need taxis anymore, or traffic lights, because driverless cars can utilize gaps in the traffic. We’ll save time. Everyone in Europe spends 1.4 hours a day on average in a car. Since we take eighty percent of all trips alone, this is a rather inefficient state of affairs. We go from A to B, but all we do is drive. Self-driving cars could allow us to recoup this time. We will suddenly be able to do completely different things in the car, which will change our world.

How will autonomous driving affect accident statistics?

The vehicles can communicate with each other. They know where they are and will no longer crash into each other. Even today, technical reasons account for only one percent of accidents. Humans are to blame for 98.8 percent of accidents. If we don’t have to drive ourselves around anymore, we’re heading for an accident-free future. At some point we will ask ourselves how we could have allowed humans behind the wheel at all.

When will that be?

Maybe in fifty years. The technology is already quite functional today. But that raises the question of when we humans will trust this technology. In the aviation industry, it took forty to fifty years for aircraft to land and take off fully automatically. With cars, as well, people need time to adapt and adjust to autonomous functions. By the way, the new world will begin in 2021.

That’s not that far away.

That’s right. And a lot will depend on this development. Don’t forget the German Technical Inspection Association TÜV. It not only has to check the technology, but also whether the software functions properly over the entire lifecycle of the car. The law even stipulates a reversal of the burden of proof. As soon as a driver realizes that his car’s unusual behavior might be tied to the software, it is not the consumer but the manufacturer who has to prove that everything in this area is in good working order. This high bar is necessary for people to gain confidence in the automotive software and in its safety guarantee.

Is increasing perfection eroding the car’s personality?

We cannot have a car industry in Europe that builds faceless, emotionless products. The product would become merely a vicarious agent of a required service without any value attached to it. Today, we develop premium products that spark desires. And we are prepared to pay more for a product that conveys a particular lifestyle than for a product that does not. Even if it performs the same functions. May I give you an example? We are prepared to pay 4,000 euros more for a Golf than for a Hyundai, a Mazda or a Kia that all have the same performance data and the same equipment. This is tied to our desire for premium products and the lifestyle that goes along with it. It makes you feel better.

How do social media impact this development?

Even in the age of social media, people are still vain. What’s more, social media and the availability of communication and information in every corner of the world will dramatically intensify our vanity. Premium products will retain their importance. That’s why I don’t think we’re headed for an emotionless world when it comes to autonomous driving.

“The combustion engine will end up where equestrianism is today.”
Christian Malorny

What will happen to our old, wonderfully simple cars? If a technology falls behind the times, it stands a great chance of becoming a luxury object. Just think of horses or sailboats.

The combustion engine will end up where equestrianism is today. It will be a niche sport for well-to-do people. We’ll see a racetrack boom. They will also be a hobby for many who may no longer be allowed to drive their combustion engines on the road, at least not in city centers. They will go out on the racetrack and drive their cars for sport.

When will that be?

That’s a long way off. In the West, classic cars are seen as part of our culture, because they are also an important part of our industrial history. After all, the car was invented in Germany. Many innovations have been developed here. Society is aware of this too. And there are efforts to have the automobile recognized as part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List. As a result, in principle, every classic car would benefit from UNESCO protection under certain conditions.

That would be great!

When we humans recognize something as part of our culture, it doesn’t get tossed aside so quickly. I think it also speaks highly of us for keeping it up. Also because it is a part of our lifestyle and has brought us to where we are today. Mobility still is tied to the idea of freedom and the ability to choose your goals freely. Today this is a matter of course for many people. But not too long ago, a journey took a lot of time and had to follow a sophisticated daily itinerary to end successfully.

Back to your old cars. Do you drive them to go shopping in Berlin?

I actually drive a lot in the city, from getting sandwiches for the family in the vintage car to rallies I like to drive in. I love driving to any old destination with like-minded people who have classic cars and talking shop with them. The fact that I grew up in West Berlin is why I drive a lot in the city. I was born in Berlin-Zehlendorf in 1965. Until 1989 I could hardly get out of the city by car because of the Berlin Wall. Now it is absolutely wonderful to tour in the old cars, out into the Mecklenburg Lake District, along the tree-lined avenues in Brandenburg or out to the Havelland region. The landscapes are often flat, which is great for the small cars, because that’s when they handle quite nicely.


Christian Malorny studied mechanical engineering at the Technical University of Berlin and became a quality management specialist in the automotive industry during his doctoral studies. He authored several books even before joining McKinsey in 1996. Since 2018, he has been head of the automotive division at A. T. Kearney. His clients include all major car manufacturers and suppliers. When Christian Malorny is not on a plane (or in a small car), he spends his time with his wife and two daughters.