Fortunately, day six began about an hour later than the previous day. After breakfast, the group headed to Königsplatz and caught the tram headed to Faurecia in Augsburg. Along the way, the sheer number of station wagons on the road caught my attention. My family used to own two station wagons, but they are a dying breed in the US. I rarely see a station wagon in the states these days, but here in Germany they are all over the place. I wonder why they are so popular in Germany and not in the US. Perhaps one of the Germans students could give me some insight into this.
Once we got to Faurecia, we began with a tour of the test center. They have a number of different tests that they run on their parts, such as the burner test, shaker test and hydro-pulse test. They seemed to be very thorough in their testing and quality control. During the tour, they discussed the logistics of development, and it sounds like they are very constrained by their customers, the car manufacturers, when it comes to development. The guide mentioned that the car companies demand high standards while giving Faurecia little flexibility in trying to meet these demands. It thus seems that there is very strong customer power (one of Porter’s five forces) in the automotive supplier industry, and it appears to weigh on the suppliers significantly, as the car companies squeeze them more and more in an attempt to improve the end product.
After our tour, we headed inside for a presentation and some refreshments. The buttered pretzels were very good, but one could not say the same about the presentation. There were a number of problems I had with the presentation. Unlike at Audi, the presenter knew little about the company’s strategy, so from the start there was a considerable constraint upon what insight we could get. Also, in what can only be described as a breakdown in communication and understanding, they pitched us two internship programs, one of which was for European graduate students only, and the other of which required German proficiency, which only I have out of all the Americans. These were pretty much a pointless diversion from the main topic. Numerous spelling errors also appeared in the presentation, which shows sloppiness and left me with a bad impression.
As far as the company itself, there did not seem to be any clear, actionable strategy for reacting to the rapidly changing automotive industry. They identified the same mega-trends as most of the other companies (electric and autonomous vehicles, connectivity and sharing), and yet they had little progress to show in terms of tackling these trends, with only a very vague and essentially impossible goal of zero emissions in place. The tour guide admitted that Faurecia is struggling to find a place for its products in electric vehicles, which could really hurt its business going forward. Also, the fact that there is no one pronunciation of the company’s name, and that they do not have any visible markings on their own products, shows a lack of brand and company identity, at least in the mind of the end user. Despite their move into the ship and commercial vehicle markets, which I think is a sound move, that segment is still tiny compared to their automotive segment, so much work remains to be done if they are to offset the declines in sales that they will experience as electric vehicles go mainstream. Overall, it just seems that, more than any other company so far, Faurecia is struggling to cope with the changes coming to the industry. There is still time for them to find their way, but I did not see anything that gave me confidence in their ability to change and innovate.
Following the conclusion of our visit, we headed the the University, where we ate lunch at the Mensa. I had Rinderroulade and Spätzle again since I liked both of them last time. After lunch, Dr. Sebastian Geßler gave us a lecture about Bavarian and German politics. I found it interesting, although not surprising, that the German political system is becoming more polarized, with the Green Party and the AfD gaining voters as the more moderate parties like the CDU and SPD lose support. Hot-button issues like climate change and migration easily foster this move toward the extremes. Also of note was that in Bavaria, the divide between the conservative rural areas the the liberal cities exists just like in the US. This is a staple feature of US politics, and my expectation that it existed in Germany proved correct. Of the two systems, I prefer Germany’s, because the parliamentary system fosters coalitions and compromise, whereas the US system just creates extremely polarized politics and constant gridlock, especially given the American obsession with ideological purity.
After the politics lecture, our Hirschvogel group got together to divvy out the work for the presentation next week, and once that was finished, we Americans headed back to the hotel for some much-needed rest before dinner. Dinner consisted of Döner again with some ice cream for dessert, thus rounding out a shorter day. I’m really excited to finally visit Munich tomorrow and check it off the list of German cities I need to see.