E-cars as job killers?: This is how the German auto industry can get the curve

The supplier Schaeffler cuts 1000 jobs in Germany.

E-cars as job killers?: This is how the German auto industry can get the curve

The supplier Schaeffler cuts 1000 jobs in Germany. Electromobility will cost tens of thousands of jobs throughout the automotive industry. Compensation through new jobs is possible, according to experts. There are opportunities above all in digitalization.

The supplier Schaeffler is doing what the auto industry and trade unionists have been warning of for years: 1,300 jobs will be cut, 1,000 of them in Germany - with reference to electromobility. "Many suppliers are facing what is probably their greatest entrepreneurial challenge to date," says Hildegard Müller, President of the Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), when asked by ntv.de. "They have to develop a new business model while still building components for the internal combustion engine." Due to the transformation away from combustion engines to electric motors, tens of thousands of jobs are at stake in the German automotive industry. According to industry experts, these losses can be offset elsewhere. However, only under several conditions, both on the part of industry and politics. First and foremost: more speed.

Significantly fewer people are needed to produce electric cars; with around 1,000 components, a combustion engine has around four times as many components as an electric drive. According to the VDA, around half of the jobs in the German automotive industry depend on the combustion engine. Industry expert Stefan Bratzel predicts that the number of jobs in the powertrain sector at car manufacturers and suppliers will fall by 15 to 20 percent overall - that would mean at least 120,000 to 160,000 jobs in the industry. In addition, there is a reduction in staff in the car trade and service, as the head of the Center of Automotive Management in Bergisch Gladbach emphasizes in an interview with ntv.de. Around 450,000 people have worked there so far, but the need for service and repairs is also significantly lower for e-cars than for combustion engines.

On the other hand, electric vehicles create a new need for jobs, for example in the energy sector, for example for the charging infrastructure. According to Bratzel, the car industry can also create new jobs, especially in the digital sector. However, German companies would have to become much stronger here. Software and digital services - including autonomous driving - have so far been dominated by non-European providers, primarily from the USA.

If they succeed in connecting with them, the job cuts in the auto industry can possibly be compensated for by new jobs in the industry and in other sectors of the economy. However, according to Bratzel, German companies must also become stronger in cell production. The car expert is less confident when it comes to car sales and service. If the stock of internal combustion engines will decrease in the late 2020s, early 2030s, these companies will need additional business areas.

Car expert Ferdinand Dudenhöffer is more optimistic: "We will be among the winners," says the head of the CAR Center Automotive Research in Duisburg in an interview with ntv.de. "If you add the new jobs in battery production, in the digital sector and in the charging infrastructure, the positive effects will be greater than the negative effects," estimates Dudenhöffer. In this case, he does not think much of specific figures, since many developments cannot be estimated in terms of time.

The job cuts as a result of electromobility is a matter of years, but is now happening faster than many thought, as both Schaeffler and Bratzel note. "It also has to go faster because the industry has to make its contribution to climate protection," says Bratzel. In his opinion, the automotive industry underestimated the dynamics of electromobility. "Until 2015/16 you didn't believe in it and therefore waited too long." But both customer acceptance and regulations have increased. "The industry was looking backwards instead of forward-looking and made a mistake," says Bratzel. "But she can still catch up with the mistake." VW stepped on the gas after the diesel crisis, and Mercedes and BMW have now caught up.

But according to Bratzel, the supplier industry in particular still has to make adjustments when it comes to e-mobility. According to Dudenhöffer, Schaeffler, for example, stuck with the combustion engine for too long and entered new fields very late. Basically, the German car industry is well positioned in his eyes - if it weren't for politics. In his estimation, Germany is so on the brakes that the German car manufacturers and suppliers will ultimately find better conditions in China and the USA to set up their companies. VDA President Müller warns: "The USA and China are tempting with subsidies and significantly lower energy prices. Meanwhile, Berlin and Brussels are already dealing with new regulations and regulations that are putting increasing pressure on the industry: we are in danger of losing our international competitiveness."

"We made the wrong political decisions," says Dudenhöffer. He is critical of the planned discontinuation of funding for plug-in hybrids and the reduction in funding for pure electric vehicles. The expansion of e-mobility will falter in the next few years, which in turn will slow down investments in the necessary infrastructure.

The world's highest energy prices in Germany also slowed down progress, says Dudenhöffer. In his view, there are too many exceptions and generally too much bureaucracy in the current efforts to lower energy prices. The energy costs are decisive for the production of batteries and cells. VDA President Müller calls for quick relief for suppliers, especially with regard to electricity prices: "Generation capacities must be expanded and electricity taxes reduced to the European minimum."

Dudenhöffer also calls for Germany to open up more to China. In the case of e-cars, the German car industry has now faced strong competition from there. Bratzel emphasizes that Chinese manufacturers are already strong local competitors. "They will also try to access the market in Europe - and their chances are not bad." China is already on an equal footing. Tesla is even years ahead. Bratzel is still optimistic: "When German industry has recognized issues, it is also strong. But now it has to give a lot more power."

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