Esslingue is one of those affluent industrial towns on the outskirts of Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg. Behind the station, a hillside is covered with rows of vines exploited by enthusiasts. Here, prosperity is everywhere, luxuriant. If it were not intimately linked to the internal combustion engine, one could almost believe it to be eternal.
The impression is misleading. At Eberspächer, the great industrialist of Esslingue, for a few months now, we have been more anxious than before, as we walk past the history of the family business, on display on the ground floor. In the beginning, there is Jakob Eberspächer, proud master plumber with a chevron mustache, who in 1865 founded a workshop for the construction of metal-framed glass roofs. It was not until 1933 that the company made the turn that will make its current fortune: the descendants of Jakob transform the production of metal structures into the manufacture of the first exhaust silencer. Eberspächer is today one of the largest German “exhaust technology” equipment manufacturers, specializing in noise reduction and the treatment of gases from combustion vehicles.
The year 2020 will surely also have its place in the company’s chronicle. This is the year in which Eberspächer, shaken both by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and the end of a boom in the automotive industry, suffered a loss of 53 million euros. He had to close his last factory in Esslingue, relocated to Poland. The group took note of the final decline of the internal combustion engine. On May 21, 2021, Eberspächer announced the split of the escape techniques into a new entity. These activities, which still represent 90% of the company’s turnover, must continue to supply the markets which will use the internal combustion engine for a long time to come. Its profits must finance the transition of the rest of the company to electric and autonomous driving.
2.2 million employees
The story of Eberspächer is emblematic of all subcontractors in the German automotive industry. With the electric motor, more exhaust pipes, more connecting rods, more pistons, more valves: all these high precision metal parts, often manufactured by SMEs, are ultimately doomed. In recent weeks, the tension has escalated at IG Metall, the big union in the industry. Under the pressure of a ruling from the German Constitutional Court, Germany has decided to strengthen its climate targets. “This means that we are going to need a lot more electric vehicles than anticipated so far. Instead of 8 million to 10 million, by the end of the decade, 14 million to 16 million will have to travel on German roads ”, Kai Bliesener, expert at IG Metall.
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