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  Are there ways out of the crisis?

Not only are Opel, the PSA-concern and Fiat being threatened but Ford as well. Not They want to completely shut down the factories in Genk (Belgium) with their approx. 4300 employees and also Southampton (GB) with their appox. 500. It is still undecided, whether Halewood (approx. 700) or Dagenham (approx. 3000) (both GB) will follow suit. What the above list doesn't tell you about, is the enormous employee reduction that has already taken place, e.g., in Valencia (Spain) with about half that number.

What we now often hear, is that the motor car industry only has a chance, if, e.g., they could export to China. This is the accusation made by Opel in the direction of the GM head office. They of course maintain that one can not simply export to China, because of commercial restrictions and and tax-duties of approx. 25%. Thus, Opel would have to go into a joint venture with a Chinese partner, who would hold 51% of the shares. This at least, is what other companies are doing.

This however, is a pretty hackneyed argument. As if exporting alone, could save a factory. Certainly, 90% of the economic expansion in the immediate future, will take place outside of Europe. Indeed, a product that sells well, still needs the respective customers. If their customers are not favourably disposed, the makers have to ask themselves, whether their product is up to date, thus competitive, and if they have perhaps lost their customers due to slovenly manufacturing in the past.

Having a look at the figures is worthwhile. In Europe, from January to September, VW, BMW and Mercedes have lost around 1 to just under 3% of the market, whereby the losses at Opel, Ford, PSA and Fiat, are all about 10% higher. Where, if you please, is the Chinese influence there? In addition, Hyundai and Kia have increased their share to above 10%. Indeed, in this case, a combination of new products at extremely attractive prices can be observed, which apparently, the other manufacturers don't seem to be able to bring across to the customers.

One thing is certain, the sales in Europe are shrinking, and this will more than likely worsen, and this, for very different reasons. Rescue operations, e.g., those made by the French government, have not, and will not prove to be a great help. Also the German 'scrapping-bonus' did not really help the ailing manufacturers. The suffering is only drawn out over a longer period. In this respect, the specifically applied short time compensation had a much higher quality. However this seems only to function well if the overtime accounts of the workers are well filled, indeed, they are hardly growing at all nowadays. The boom was simply too short.

At the Auto-Salon, Peugeot was visibly celebrating itself. They even created their own grand piano. This however, was followed by a great hangover, which meant the possible dismissal of approx. 8000 workers and the closing of the factory not far from Paris. Now suddenly, we are dealing with an alliance between two weak companies, PSA and Opel. It's not hard to guess, how long it will take, before, the numerous platforms of the one, are combined with the bodywork of the other, in an attempt to produce marketable products.

Apart from all this, what Europe actually urgently needs, and perhaps even moreso the world market, is a particularly reasonable vehicle. No, nothing primitive. Here, the art of engineering is required. It would have to be a safe and economical car with a fair transporting capacity. The price tag: €8000 or even substantially less. At the moment, Dacia is advertising it's products as the cheapest in Europe. Quite a clever union by Renault, to go in with Mercedes. If they don't have reason to regret it.

Especially in relation to the reasonably priced car, the important question of acquiring reasonably priced staff, will become important. Up to now, the solution has been, moving the factories further and further to the east. Until recently, Ford had been applying this method in Russia. The taking over of a factory there and in the same year, closing three in the west. Is this an intelligent method? Indeed, where will they go when the wages and the standard of living increases there as well?

Moving factories around the globe, this can't be the right way. Does the height of the wages really play a decisive role, or could, e.g., the unit labour costs perhaps be decisively influenced over a longer period through applying other measures? There are responsible people in the workers ranks, who have finally had enough of the moaning about dismissals. Together with the employers, they are providing schemes to prevent a worst-case employment scenario.

As far as the state-expenses are concerned, they should be raised in times of a recession and when the economy flourishes again, they should be sustantially lowered. Unfortunately, the politicians, who would like to be re-elected, have a tendency to practice the first part, then forget about the second. Whatever. Concerning the job-market, this means, consequently pushing the overtime accounts when things are going well. Bonuses could also partly be paid out, and the rest credited to the respective overtime accounts. In this way, a cushion could be created, which would carry the occupational situation safely through the crisis. Such models already exist, however, probably not at Ford… 11/12