“Fear”: Tense situation at Volkswagen – economy

In the hours leading up, things got really bad again. “A blow at VW: CEO Diess before the end”, headlined the media before the big corporate meeting at Volkswagen in Wolfsburg on Thursday. They had picked up and spun on what the Handelsblatt had uncovered: the Volkswagen supervisory board is discussing these ongoing problems in the mediation committee these days. And because it is stated in the laws that such a body must be used to appoint or expel staff, the story has run its course: “The company is blocked,” one of them allegedly said.

Now that it’s covered in paralysis and impending expulsion – it was quickly pointed out from all quarters, minutes after some spread these tumultuous interpretations: We have nothing in mind about CEO Herbert Diess’s resignation, we immediately heard about the forced labor camp. But there is a lot to talk about. These are such important and unexplained board appointments – such as Chief Compliance Officer Hiltrud Werner or the still vacant IT position. And it’s also about the appearance of the boss, who many perceive as rowdy – it was only after enormous pressure that he agreed to join the staff meeting.

The bottom line is that the future of Wolfsburg is being negotiated. Again – with steadily increasing pressure.

This also became clear at the company meeting. Media representatives were not allowed in Hall 11 on the premises of the main factory, but all parties sent quotes, among other things, they can be used to trace what the powerful had to say: the leadership around Diess, the Prime Minister of Lower Saxony, Stéphane Weil. And especially the boss of the works council Daniela Cavallo, who had invited her to this first big VW meeting since the start of the Corona epidemic.

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VW boss Herbert Diess on the toughest competitor: ‘Even if I’m not talking about Elon Musk anymore: he’s going to stay there and revolutionize our industry. (Archive photo from July 2021)

(Photo: Carsten Koall / dpa)

What is most clearly happening at Volkswagen at the moment is an expression of enormous tension given the profound upheavals in this industry – which are particularly hard for Wolfsburg: this is where the Volkswagen brand is based. . As a “volume brand”, it has to worry more about efficiency and costs than internal premium suppliers such as Audi or Porsche or competitors such as BMW and Daimler.

Diess recently spoke of 30,000 jobs at risk

Diess recently put a number of 30,000 jobs in the room: it is the number of jobs that are at risk if the effectiveness of the VW brand does not increase rapidly. It was a vague, subjunctive statement. But she was unsettling. “As you have appeared in public over the past few months,” Cavallo said, “I really wonder if you yourself are really aware of this situation here at our location and how it is being received by the workforce. of work. ” Just a few years ago, the management announced that they wanted to build a million cars a year in Wolfsburg – it would be the largest car factory in the world. Instead, they only run 400,000 cars this year, have short-time working and a production level like the last in the late 1950s. But, according to Cavallo: “It’s not the factory or the employees. which are ineffective, no, of course not! We just lack the parts we can build our cars with.

These are the computer chips that are lacking in the industry. Some automakers still run production to a certain extent, BMW for example because they treat their suppliers in a reasonable way and Tesla because they make things themselves and – one can assume – the suppliers prefer to serve this rising star. Of the industry.

The purchasing department of the VW group, however, works in difficult conditions, which is not beneficial in times of shortage. And then rare parts are distributed to the detriment of the Volkswagen brand. Chips are not found in the Golf or the Tiguan, but in expensive cars that generate a lot of margins, like those from Audi or Porsche. “What we’re seeing with semiconductors is an indictment,” said Cavallo, who has actually been very calm and quiet since taking office in May. Until now. “This is an indictment against a global business! And it’s your responsibility, dear business leaders!”

The boss of the works council complains: The boss goes for a hike in the mountains instead of solving problems

But instead of resolving the situation, complained the boss of the works council at the meeting, Herbert Diess went on a hike with colleagues, as evidenced by his social media posts. Or take a bike tour of the factory. In fact, Diess never understood why you are not allowed to drive on this huge factory area by bicycle, only by car – and ultimately prevailed against the works council, which had safety concerns. . For him a symbol of outdated VW culture, for the works council a superfluous discussion. “We think it’s very good,” Cavallo engraved, “but unfortunately too few people have to work in the factory, so the issue of cycling may not be so urgent.”

And finally, she thinks that dealing with “our biggest competitor” is strange. What we mean is Tesla. Diess focuses again and again on the electric car maker of the United States; recently, he even turned on his boss Elon Musk live at a management meeting.

The employees’ verdict: “The fascination you apparently feel for Mr. Musk and the vigor you put in maintaining contact with him is what we, the employees, would also like in the face of our current major challenges in the Group” , Cavallo said. , their father once worked in Wolfsburg. Employees are “clearly aware that a lot is going, and even must, change in the course of electromobility and digitization”. But instead of shaping this challenge constructively and reliably into cooperation, Diess has destabilized his employees, for example by speculating on downsizing: “You’re afraid! “, Sums up Cavallo on the state of mind of the workforce,” Fear for their work, for their families, for their existence. And you keep sprinkling salt on the wound, and that without further ado. “

Although Diess sees the need differently. Change is too slow for him. Much too slow. Especially at the headquarters in Wolfsburg, where Volkswagen’s heart beats. “We are the best in the world of combustion engines,” said the CEO in his speech, which, like the entire event, was webcast on VW’s intranet. He has just ordered a Golf GTI again: “The best car in the world”. It was a big blow to the workers in Wolfsburg, who are mainly busy building this car.

“But competition awaits us in the new world,” said Diess, competition Volkswagen has never experienced before. The car is becoming the most complex high-tech product in the world, Apple and Google are entering this market, as are the Chinese suppliers who are “really good”. And set the standard: Tesla. “Even though I am no longer talking about Elon Musk, he is going to stay and revolutionize our industry and quickly become more and more competitive.”

The president’s call: “The next Golf doesn’t have to be a Tesla!

Tesla is developing cars around software, it is a completely new approach, in which old successes no longer count – and because of which the Wolfsburg site must also change: “The jobs that exist today will certainly be fewer. in the next ten to fifteen years. years, ”said Diess. Mainly in administration at group level, but also in production and development. But more and new jobs would be added: “But it is not Herbert Diess or Daniela Cavallo who decides. Customers decide by buying either a car from Brandenburg or a car from Wolfsburg.”

Brandenburg, this is the Tesla factory in Grünheide, which will probably start operations at the end of the year. And in which Musk wants cars built in ten hours – which is much faster than VW’s production so far.

How Diess put his own performance in a bad light, complained Cavallo, who spoke of “content nonsense.” You could build a lot more cars in Wolfsburg with the existing production staff – provided there are enough parts and soon the production order of a popular electric model. “It is enough for us to continue to hear that the works council wants to defend only the old and the existing”, replied the boss of the works council: “The works council wants change, the employees want change, Wolfsburg wants change! But one thing also needs to be clear: Change can only be achieved with VW culture.

Which brings you back to the need for discussion and the mediation committee. Because impatient, headstrong driver Herbert Diess and VW’s consensus-driven culture will never mix. Even if Cavallo will accept his call: “The next Golf must not be a Tesla! The next Golf must not come from China! The next icon has to be a Wolfsburg again!

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