Canadian Manufacturing

German autoworkers forego holidays to meet demand

Sign of rebounding economy

BERLIN: Autoworkers at Germany’s BMW plant chose to work through the holidays in order to keep up with production.

The company made the rare move of cutting holidays short thanks to a surge in demand that’s helping the nation rebound from the recession.

Back at the peak of the financial crisis, German carmakers used the nation’s traditionally generous end-of-year holidays to idle their factories and cut costs. But this year, both BMW AG and Daimler AG are keeping plants up running between Christmas and New Year’s.

The VDA automakers’ association expects car production for the year to reach 5.5 million vehicles, 11 per cent more than last year and on par with 2008 output.

Demand from Asia, especially China, is fueling that growth, according to Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, an auto expert at the University of Dusiburg-Essen.

“The high growth rate in Asia will contribute to high growth in the global economy that will set the stage for high growth in the global automobile market,” Dudenhoeffer wrote in an analyst note.

Germany’s auto industry has played a big part in the 3.6 per cent growth predicted by the nation’s central bank this year.

German automakers are also benefiting from the recovering US market, although the big three—General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group— kept plants shut as usual.

One exception was Chrysler’s Jefferson North plant in Detroit, which had one holiday shift due to increased demand for the new Jeep Grand Cherokee and the launch of the Dodge Durango.

German companies like Munich-based BMW AG are enjoying a broader rise in demand, driven by markets in Germany, the US and China. The company expects to sell more than 1.4 million cars worldwide by year’s end.

“Right now we are running at full capacity,” said Jochen Mueller, a spokesman at the factory in Leipzig, which turns out 750 cars a day.

One assembly worker there, Marcus Henze, said this was the first of eight years at BMW that he’s returned to work between the official Christmas and New Year’s government holidays.

“Of course we would rather be home with families, but most people are OK with it,” Henze said. “Motivation is very high.”

Elsewhere in Europe, most plants stayed closed.

British luxury automaker Jaguar-Land Rover said demand is up, but they’ve been able to meet it through increased overtime. So has Sweden’s Volvo. In France, neither Renault nor PSA Peugeot Citroen changed their holiday schedules, while Italy’s Fiat still hasn’t returned to full production since the recession.

© 2010 The Canadian Press

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