COMMENT: Pragmatism and creativity

Franz W. Rother is Editor-in-Chief of Automobilwoche

Business for Continental and other suppliers is thriving and engineers are working overtime until they drop. Capacity use at the Ford plant in Cologne, Germany, is satisfactory but high employment costs mean less profit.

Opel suffers from the effects of the weak economy. With only the Vectra in production, the very modern Ruesselsheim plant is not working to its capacity. The BMW Regensburg plant, on the other hand, does not seem to be affected by the economic slowdown. Due to high demand for the 3-Series the lines are running non-stop, even during lunch hours.

The problems of the German automotive industry vary. In some places employees have to work more, in others less. Sometimes there is no way around redundancies. The only common feature is the ingenuity that directors and members of the corporations' works councils demonstrate.

When looking at Opel and Ford's current difficulties, it springs to mind that in the old days management would have pulled out a huge butcher's knife. Nowadays they work with scalpels. The number of staff is still being reduced but less blood is shed.

The automotive industry proves that it can be innovative - not only when it comes to the development of new cars and new vehicle categories. Innovative solutions are also adopted in bringing working time and employment costs in line with demand and financial means.

It isn't easy for the industry. The collective tariff contract is still a terribly tight corset, although a few hooks have been opened during the past few years. A further step toward more flexibility by adding more clauses that open the contract would give the corporations more room to breathe and would help them secure jobs.

Companies have recognized that in times of an ever-increasing shortage in qualified staff a hire-fire mentality would threaten their own opportunities going forward. The trade unions should now do their bit and recognize that working times cannot always move down - and pay cannot always move upwards. More pragmatism and creativity are needed, on both sides. That is the only way for the automotive industry to remain the economic engine of Germany.

Tags: Automakers

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