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Seven future theses on the automotive industry in post-demy

Join me in a thought experiment. Let's say the corona pandemic would be over in 2023. What has changed in the auto industry by then? I think: we will hardly recognize the driving force behind German prosperity. Seven theses from the point of view of post-demia.

Thesis 1 | Capacity reduction: employment fell by a quarter.

In Germany, around 200,000 of the 800,000 direct employees in the auto industry will be cut. So we are talking about the multiple dimensions of a change such as in coal mining - and this in a drastically shorter time. It's going to be brutal. Plants are being closed, both at the OEMs and in the supply chain. According to a survey by the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), 60 percent of suppliers are currently planning to cut staff on a large scale. This trend is not new. The production of cars in Germany fell in 2018 by almost 10 percent from 5.6 to 5.1 million and in 2019 by a further 8 percent from 5.1 to 4.7 million vehicles. The cumulative declines in the two years 2018 and 2019 were thus greater than in the crisis years 1993 and 2009, respectively. That was before Corona.

Thesis 2 | Structural change: a monster wave of mergers and acquisitions.

While in 2020, thanks to short-time working and special loan programs, the desperate life support of many zombie suppliers still worked, in 2021 it will come unexpectedly thick from the direction of the banks. The sharp increase in the number of bankruptcies of smaller companies is leading to an explosion in write-offs on bad loans from the Corona era. The banks suddenly only grant loans to companies in a very restrictive manner - despite high guarantees from the state. The pressure to restructure is increasing, and defaults are increasing due to a lack of financing. The saving hands of private equity are clammy and have been blacklisted for years. In particular, the traditional medium-sized companies lose their importance without the protective wall of the banks, while the large tier 1 suppliers can even buy additional sales through inexpensive M&A.

Thesis 3 | China Coming: The Middle Kingdom is seizing.

'Going China' becomes 'China Coming' for good. Thanks to the wise minority stakes held by the Chinese, the books of our corporations had already opened up widely: for a long time they had known who was procuring what under what conditions and from whom. This knowledge is now paying off and leading to a wave of investments in which solid medium-sized companies with good names suddenly find a senior partner in China. The acquired companies are not software groups, they come from the inconspicuous middle class. Material specialists, electronics suppliers and also some component manufacturers of combustion technology (which will still be buzzing in most new vehicles in 2030). The Postdemie Silk Road has fixed exits to Swabia, East Westphalia or Lower Bavaria.

Thesis 4 | Trade conflicts flourish: after the rescue packages comes the shield.

After Whatever-it-takes initiative EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised 750 billion euros in digitization and green technologies in order to rebuild the European economy after the corona slump. In addition, the national parliaments have launched gigantic other programs. However, after the elections in the USA and the semi-cold Brexit, this is pouring oil into the fire of those who would like to put the old continent under pressure with their desires. A trade climate of coercion and frustration arises between the accused distortion of competition from outside and the EU's internal desire for transfer. After Corona, the markets will become more political, and so will the capacity decisions.

Thesis 5 | The digital revolution: “Waiting for Godot”.

New mobility systems for urban customers? Unfortunately, they still remain in the hands of the digital players from China and the USA. In five years at the latest, cars will be driving autonomously, according to the familiar refrain of an old song. People have masks in their heads - instead of a departure into the digital age, we are shaken by digital fake news and reports of fear about hackers and cyber terror. The approval of new technologies is dragging on, remains national, and neither a rollout of 5G nor the digital infrastructure in the transport system have made great leaps. The industry reacts: A joint ten-year plan is not supposed to bring German products to the moon - but to the streets. A little hope remains.

Thesis 6 | E-Drive: Decarbonization is taking place.

Good things happen too. Despite increasing mileage in the transport system, the CO2 pollution drops significantly. Accompanied by a calm hum and supported by the massive subsidies of the Corona subsidies, the electric drive is suitable for everyday use and is conquering niche by niche. The charging infrastructure falls short of expectations, but not below the critical limit. New battery types promise more adequate ranges than before. But none of these batteries are made in Germany.

Thesis 7 | Need for creativity: Innovation is more important than ever before.

Companies in the auto industry were only able to survive the pandemic through extreme cost discipline. But the post-demy will only be won if there is enough innovation in the pipeline to be able to offer something to the customers of the day after tomorrow. Preferably what you expect: sustainable, intelligent and individual mobility. By definition, however, innovation is more than the “me-too” that everyone does. So what is my thesis here? There are still world market leaders from Germany in the automotive sector who use their innovative strength to define where the front is. And in front means: where no one has been before.

What can we do now to make the post-demy successful?

  • Thinking ahead: Create scenarios and create leeway - build in resilience!
  • Lean Agile as a principle: Establish mobility and modularize the operating system.
  • Create financial stability: Securing liquidity in the long term, strengthening equity.
  • Go Green: Actively search for contributions in the CO2 game. It always pays off!
The future belongs to those who see the possibilities before they become obvious.
Attributed to Oscar Wilde


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About the author

Insider for automotive, business & management, internet & technology, politics & society

I am an entrepreneur & consultant. For over 20 years I have been advising the international automotive industry - currently mainly on issues of digitization and the agility of organization and leadership. Education: Telematics studies (TU Graz), doctorate in philosophy (University of Bremen).
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