Auto industry: Chip shortages and e-car boom: These are the challenges German car manufacturers will have to master in 2022
Düsseldorf Once again all hopes rest on the new year. Twelve months ago, most automakers were betting that the worst time would be behind them and that the corona pandemic would be over. But then came the semiconductor supply crisis – and many things got worse. There is no guarantee that chip supply will really improve in 2022 either.
Many auto managers are spreading optimism about the new year. It can be assumed that “the supply situation will stabilize,” says Ralf Brandstätter, CEO of Volkswagen Passenger Cars, for example. The Wolfsburg-based company has made direct contact with large chip manufacturers and no longer relies solely on intermediate automotive suppliers such as Bosch and Continental for semiconductor supplies. “We had to make a virtue out of necessity,” adds Brandstätter. “Hopefully the situation should relax in the second half of 2022,” says Hildegard Müller, President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA).
However, there should be no talk of a radical improvement in the situation in the new year. At Volkswagen, this becomes particularly clear in the example of the Wolfsburg parent plant. A good 800,000 cars can actually be manufactured there annually. But due to the lack of semiconductors, it was almost half that in 2021, which was almost over. Volkswagen is planning with 570,000 vehicles for 2022, which is still well below the possible capacity.
From the point of view of industry experts, automakers should be prepared for persistent supply problems. “The discrepancy between supply and demand for semiconductors is growing ever larger,” says Michael Alexander, partner at Roland Berger. An imminent improvement is not in sight. The bottleneck has structural reasons, there are simply too few semiconductors. The chip shortage will persist into 2023 – and likely beyond. “The announced additional capacities are not sufficient to cover the demand,” emphasizes Alexander.
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However, the lack of chips does not affect all automakers alike. Some companies have coped better with the supply crisis, others worse.
Volkswagen versus Tesla
In the past, software and semiconductors did not play a major role in Wolfsburg, so Volkswagen was hit harder by the chip supply crisis. The VW group should also take longer to get out of the valley. “Volkswagen has to be faster in implementing its plans,” says Patrick Hummel, automotive analyst at the major Swiss bank UBS.
Tesla is the opposite of Volkswagen. The American electrical manufacturer has shown that car production can be increased significantly despite the lack of chips. Final results are not yet available, but Tesla could have broken the million mark for the first time in the past year in the number of cars produced – twice as many as in 2020.
At Tesla, chips and software have been an integral part of car production right from the start. Tesla also develops some of its semiconductors itself. The supply crisis has therefore not hit the Americans as much as it did in Wolfsburg. In 2022, Tesla will continue to expand. Because in the new year the car factory in Grünheide near Berlin will start production.
Other established car manufacturers have also come through the chip crisis better than Volkswagen, especially BMW and Toyota. The Munich-based automaker had stocked up on the indispensable semiconductors more comprehensively and created larger reserves. Even in the new year, the supply problems are unlikely to reach the Wolfsburg level for a long time. The situation is similar at Toyota: The Japanese maintain close contacts with large chip manufacturers from Asia. That is why Toyota came through the crisis relatively unscathed.
Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, Professor at the Center Automotive Research (CAR) in Duisburg, expects a slight improvement in the automotive markets worldwide. In 2021, 70.5 million cars were sold around the world, according to Dudenhöffer. For the new year, he expects sales of 75.2 million cars. This means that the industry is still well below its record from 2017, when 84.4 million cars were sold worldwide.
High growth rates, more e-mobility
“Not all sales that have failed due to the pandemic can be made up quickly,” Dudenhöffer concludes. Due to the aging of the vehicle population, however, higher growth rates can be expected again in the longer term. In addition, combustion models are increasingly being replaced by electric cars.
Missing semiconductors are unlikely to stop a fundamental trend in the new year either: the increased shift towards electromobility. “The proportion of electric vehicles among new vehicles is rising continuously,” says Fabian Brandt, partner at the management consultancy Oliver Wyman. Because of the stricter CO2 limit values alone, car manufacturers around the world are being forced to significantly expand their share of electricity. Otherwise there is a risk of severe fines.
China, the USA and Germany are developing into the most important sales markets for electric cars. Stefan Bratzel, professor at the Center of Automotive Management (CAM) in Bergisch Gladbach, Rhineland, calculates that around 350,000 purely battery-powered electric cars have been sold in Germany alone this year. For 2022, Bratzel expects a further increase to 450,000 e-vehicles. The German automakers will continue to expand their range of electrical products. In addition, the promise of the new government in Berlin that state funding for e-cars will continue unchanged in the new year will help, according to Bratzel.
Series: Industry Outlook 2022
Progress can also be expected in autonomous driving in the new year. At the beginning of December, Mercedes received state approval for its “Drive Pilot”. In 2022, the first S-Class models that can actually drive autonomously will be on the German autobahn. But then really only on the highways and up to a maximum speed of 60 kilometers per hour. Drivers should therefore use this “Level 3 system” primarily in traffic jams and heavy traffic.
With autonomous level 3, the driver leaves control entirely to the car, but must always be able to step in in problematic situations. At level 4 the car drives completely independently under predefined conditions, at level 5 no driver is needed at all. Not only Mercedes, but also most other automakers will intensify their efforts in autonomous driving in 2022.
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