Mercedes-Benz Untertürkheim Plant Threatened by EVs?

After a labor dispute, more than 250 new jobs will be created at the Mercedes-Benz Untertürkheim plant – a traditional powertrain operation – as battery production is being added. Workers at the Untertürkheim had refused overtime as of 1 July amid fears that a new battery factory elsewhere would lead to job losses.

Untertürkheim is the lead plant in global powertrain production and the home of the Daimler headquarters. With more than 19,000 employees, the plant produces engines, axles, transmissions and components. If the conversion to electric cars comes about, many of these components are going the way of dinosaurs.

However, with a new agreement reached, several billion euros will be invested into the future development of Untertürkheim going forward. In total, the agreement is claimed to create more than 250 new jobs in so-called “e-mobility” and might have positive long-term effects for the employees at the plant.

This, clearly, is a forerunner of upcoming labor disputes and job shifts in the global automobile business – if predictions about the shift to BEVs, battery electric vehicles, now in millivolts by automotive production measurements, comes true.

The Mercedes agreement reached between the management and the works council includes what is said to be enhanced flexibility and efficiency. This refers to the alleged optimization of the plant’s operating time, as well as to variable shift models and workforce staffing.

“Untertürkheim is taking a large step towards electric mobility and strengthening our competencies for alternative drive systems,” claims Wolfgang Niece, Chairman of the Works Council Mercedes-Benz Untertürkheim Plant. “These are good signals for the Untertürkheim plant,”

The Works Council – at the major supplying site of Mercedes-Benz powertrains said verboten to any overtime as of 1 July 2017. This decision was made following grueling negotiations with the company management over electric mobility and future of Untertürkheim, and provoked disruptions in the future supplies of Mercedes-Benz S-Class and E-Class cars produced at Sindelfingen.

Plant management originally insisted that the planned battery factory should not be a subdivision of the Untertürkheim site, but instead be located at Deutsche Accumotive GmbH. Accumotive is a subsidiary company of Daimler based in Kamenz (Saxony). This represented a serious threat to some 19,000 workers of Untertürkheim site currently producing combustion engines, transmissions and axles for Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

The company is already manufacturing batteries at a larger scale and workers are troubled that the plant may lose orders in future as Daimler is increasing spending on electric cars that need engines with fewer parts and require fewer workers on the assembly line.

For all Mercedes-Benz plants, the question of the role of locations of key components production is, of course, of great importance for the future e-mobility. Works Council representatives claim that the basic pledge to integrate the future electric vehicles into the existing plants is a prerequisite for the company works at the sites in Sindelfingen, Bremen and Rastatt. The Untertürkheim site lacks such an assurance, although its workforce will be gravely affected by the upcoming changes.

Management previously proposed, among other things, deducting three qualification days from the time account for all employees annually. The three days correspond to an equivalent value of 650 euros per employee/per year depending on individual income and was strongly criticized by the works council, to put it mildly.

Management claimed that the investments needed to keep battery production at the site were too high. This is due to several factors, including the current location of the Untertürkheim site. In Baden-Wuerttemberg state metal tariffs are higher than in Saxony, where the company already has a battery factory in the Kamenz district.

Earlier, during the negotiations for the introduction of electric mobility in the beginning of the year, the plant management had also announced the production of a rear eATS (electric drive system).

Wolfgang Nieke, Chairman of the Works Council at Mercedes-Benz Untertürkheim said, “Our future here in the Neckar valley is closely linked to the future of the powertrain, which is why it is important today to set the course for tomorrow, with the workforce and the Works Council expecting the company to produce as many dimensions as possible of the electric drive components.”

About Ken Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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