Elec­tric cars spark fears at fac­to­ries

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - Elis­a­beth Behrmann

THE rise of the elec­tric car is start­ing to rip­ple through fac­to­ries that churn out tra­di­tional en­gines, set­ting up a clash with work­ers wor­ried about their fu­ture on the pro­duc­tion line.

Staff at Mercedes-Benz’s big­gest en­gine plant in Stuttgart, Ger­many, will slow pro­duc­tion start­ing next month amid a dis­pute over the com­pany’s planned bat­tery fa­cil­ity at the site. BMW AG is scal­ing back cus­tomi­sa­tion op­tions to free up cash for its elec­tric-car push. Scha­ef­fler AG’s prof­itabil­ity tar­gets are drop­ping as the com­pany strug­gles to keep up with soar­ing in­vest­ments in new tech­nolo­gies.

This string of an­nounce­ments, in the space of less than a week, points to a seis­mic shift in the car in­dus­try, which re­mains the largest em­ployer in Ger­many – home to the world’s big­gest car­maker Volk­swa­gen AG as well as lux­ury-car gi­ants Daim­ler AG and BMW. Un­chal­lenged for decades, these com­pa­nies are find­ing they must ei­ther put all the re­sources they have into fend­ing off the likes of Tesla Inc, or risk ob­so­les­cence.

“The in­dus­try is chang­ing very rapidly,” Daim­ler’s head of pow­er­train pro­duc­tion Frank Deiss said.

In par­tic­u­lar, fric­tion is grow­ing be­tween work­ers who build com­bus­tion ve­hi­cles – still the main­stay of most car­mak­ers’ profits – and man­agers seek­ing to po­si­tion their com­pa­nies for a bat­tery-pow­ered fu­ture.

Mercedes, which is in­vest­ing €10 bil­lion (R148.6bn) as it pre­pares to roll out 10 elec­tric mod­els, ex­pects as much 25 per­cent of its sales to come from the new tech­nol­ogy by 2025, stok­ing con­cerns about job se­cu­rity, par­tic­u­larly at en­gine plants. – Bloomberg

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