"There's life in the old dog yet," says ZF CEO Holger Klein about a car drive that already seemed written off: the plug-in hybrid (PHEV). The combination of battery-electric drive with a combustion engine is enjoying growing popularity in China - and not only there: "We are seeing great growth in China, but also in Europe," says the head of Germany's third-largest supplier at the Handelsblatt Auto Summit in Essen. Because in China, too, customers are noticing that the charging infrastructure in rural areas is still inadequate.
The PHEV is considered a bridging technology on the way to the battery electric vehicle (BEV). "Modern hybrid vehicles can drive 130 kilometers electrically," says Klein. In Germany, demand for PHEVs plummeted when subsidies ended at the beginning of the year. Not so in other countries.
In China, demand for PHEVs rose 80 percent to 1.5 million vehicles in the first nine months of the year. In the Netherlands, a lead market for e-mobility in Europe, hybrid demand is also currently up 50 percent. "Customers with range anxiety in particular are choosing hybrids," Klein said. That's why many automakers continue to offer them.
For ZF, PHEV demand is helping to make the transition to all-electric cars easier not only for customers, but also for employees. For example, the Saarbrücken plant produces transmissions that are still needed in the PHEV but not in the all-electric car. "We also need the expertise in Saarbrücken in e-mobility. But we will not be able to maintain the employment level." IG Metall fears up to 10,000 jobs will be cut.
In 2015, ZF was 60 percent dependent on the combustion engine; currently it is 30 percent. In 2035, the internal combustion engine will be phased out in Europe. ZF is committed to battery-electric drives, Klein said. The company has orders for electric components worth €30 billion on its books. But the new technology has consequences: "Overall, employment levels will fall," says Klein in Essen, because "the combustion engine has twice as much work content as an electric drive." Klein suggests setting up a fund for the future into which employees, companies and the government would pay. The fund could help make the change in industry more socially acceptable, he says. (aum)
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