End of the combustion engine: VW continues to need a lot of workers in production

The upheavals in the automotive industry will also be considerable from the point of view of the VW CEO – Herbert Diess, however, warns against a dramatization of the job consequences. “All the negative scenarios that are sometimes drawn are exaggerated,” he said in an interview with the news agencies dpa and dpa-AFX. “We’ll stay a car maker.” Vehicle production will still be VW’s core business at the end of the decade, although the cars have changed significantly and are on the road with significantly lower CO2 emissions.

“In order to build many cars, you will still need a lot of people in production in 2030,” said Diess. “And many of them will be doing pretty much the same job as they are today. Perhaps more automated, but it will essentially remain production.” That does not rule out that the simultaneous development of more IT skills entails major changes and extensive rethinking. “Of course we will grow in the software area with new employees,” said the manager. “But unlike in fast-paced industries, change in the automotive industry takes a lot of time. Two model life cycles are 15 years for us. Tesla is here today – after 15 years of hard work.”

As a volume provider with economies of scale, the VW Group may have a little more time to adapt than others. “But not too much either. If we carry on well, you can safely save a large part of the jobs, grow in certain areas and shrink in others.”

While car and supplier groups are pumping billions in investments, primarily in alternative drives and networking technology, the upheaval means that smaller suppliers need a lot more funding and training. Diess is relatively confident that the change will be successful in many places: “70 percent of suppliers are also going through this transformation as if there were none. Seats remain seats, steel remains steel, wheels remain wheels, brakes remain brakes.”

A lot is happening in the drive. “But the change is overestimated there too, because the drive is already not the most employee-intensive area,” said Diess. “An engine takes around an hour to manufacture in-house, compared to 20 to 30 for a vehicle.” The question in the coming years is rather: “Will we remain competitive against new competitors such as those from Asia?”

If workforces and customers are involved in the ecological and digital conversion, the car could still gain in importance. Diess expects it will “lose many negative aspects”. “In a few years you can drive around here in an SUV with a clear conscience. There are critics who cite the climate, but are actually against the car, against individual mobility. But it loses a lot of its horror, it becomes much safer , it is becoming more environmentally friendly. ”

On the way there, however, there is a need for discussion. A number of climate protectors are calling for the auto industry to switch off combustion engines more quickly, despite sharpened targets. Trade unionists and politicians are particularly concerned about the future of jobs in small companies in the automotive regions of Lower Saxony, Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg.

The new VW works council boss Daniela Cavallo recently warned that society must take the employment issue more seriously in order to prevent further political disappointment. Accompanying the upheaval in cooperation with IG Metall, employers and manufacturers was also the subject of several “car summits” with Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU).

The world of work in the industry was also significantly changed by the pandemic. He has often felt this himself in the past, said the VW CEO. “For example, I’m responsible for China on the board, I haven’t been there for a year and a half,” said Diess. “That’s a dramatic disadvantage, I can’t really assess the situation there if you only talk to people on the phone and in the video conference.”


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