While yesterday was a day off work in many production companies because demand was already weak, at least some of the systems at the automotive suppliers TCG Unitech, Stiwa and Hammerer Industries (HAI) were running. “We are not the ones who deliver negative headlines,” confirms Rudolf Mark, spokesman for the auto cluster and owner of the auto supplier of the same name in Spital am Pyhrn.
A broadcast to large companies confirms: The short-term demand reports from the Volkswagen Group, BMW, Mercedes, Stellantis and Co have been at a consistently high level in the past few months. The shifts from week to week, which had made 2022 virtually unplannable, did not occur at all or were manageable.
At TCG Unitech in Kirchdorf, up to 21 shifts per week recently had to be worked. At Stiwa in Gampern there have even been Sunday shifts at individual plants since the company vacation in the summer.
“Big worry lines”
Companies are expecting orders to decline in November and December – but still at a high level.
And what will 2024 be like? “I have a lot of worry lines about this,” says Josef Brandmayr, Managing Director at Stiwa Advanced Products. After the order backlogs in the car factories have now been processed, it is feared that car purchases will decline significantly. TCG Unitech, which operates several plants in Kremstal, is also expecting a “economical year 2024”.
The suppliers quickly identified the reason: the transformation towards electromobility was inexorably underway. But: “Electric cars from Western Europe are too expensive for consumers,” says Brandmayr.
Mark becomes even clearer: “The big European car companies have themselves to blame for this.” There was a lack of affordable mass models. Smaller models were taken out of the range and the high-margin top models were promoted.
Aluminum trays for Tesla
One beneficiary of the development towards e-mobility is Hammerer Industries in Braunau. Managing director Rob van Gils says that the main plant in Ranshofen already delivers 80 percent to car customers. Battery trays made of aluminum, among other things, would be delivered to the German premium manufacturers and to Tesla’s Gigafactory in Brandenburg. “The batteries are heavy, so increased lightweight construction is essential.”
Capacity utilization is currently “single-digit percent below plan”. Like other respondents, van Gils speaks of a sideways movement – with a slight downward trend. HAI has invested in additional systems this year, which will be used to process new orders from spring onwards. Because capacity utilization is declining slightly, the planned increase in personnel is being postponed. “We wanted to take on 60 to 70 employees for the new projects. We will now manage this by redeployment,” says van Gils. 700 employees work in Ranshofen.
HAI is of course not represented in mass models or combustion engines. These are the two sticking points for other suppliers. Stiwa man Brandmayr says: “No more euros will be invested in changing the combustion engine.” These would be produced – and in larger volumes than originally feared because demand remains high.
In the electric mass market, however, Chinese brands are now pushing into Europe – although they have been heavily subsidized by the state for years, but with technologically flawless offerings. The respondents do not agree on whether this is just a danger or – once they open factories in Europe – also an opportunity for domestic suppliers: Mark assumes that large parts in particular will not be imported from China and sees opportunities to get into business. Brandmayr, on the other hand, says: “It will be very difficult to get in there.” Stiwa, whose most important customer is the Volkswagen Group, will continue to try to primarily serve Western companies.
Wage round as the sword of Damocles
The metalworking degree is a sword of Damocles. “The result has a direct impact on our competitiveness,” says Mark. With regard to politics, Van Gils says: “Because of the high domestic inflation, the social partners have something to solve here that they can’t do anything about.”
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