Frankfurt, Dusseldorf Chancellor Angela Merkel Kummer is used to the auto industry. On her visit to the International Motor Show (IAA) four years ago, Volkswagen's executives concealed the diesel scandal that was about to be discovered, plunging industry and politics into a deep crisis.
Two years ago, she had to admonish the industry representatives once more with serious words, but finally to take more account of the climate problems. Over both visits, the CDU politician was ultimately indignant.
Last Thursday fits in this picture. Once again, the Chancellor had come to the Frankfurt Exhibition Center to open the biennial IAA. The mood was good at first. Their appeal from the year 2017 had been answered by the cars: Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler present primarily as clean considered electric cars. Merkel herself announced financial aid from the state in view of expanding the charging infrastructure in particular.
In this unfamiliar unity of the automotive world on Thursday, a news burst that shook the industry: At a board meeting of the Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) announced its President Bernhard Mattes in the early afternoon, surprisingly, his resignation.
When it came to the agenda item "Miscellaneous", he had asked a moment for silence, participants reported later. In a nutshell, Mattes announced his retirement at the end of the year. He did not want to give a more detailed explanation. Also in the following days Mattes appeared closed. He also did not want to explain his motives on request. All told, he said about Friday on the sidelines of a discussion.
The association president is silent. For others, the interpretation sovereignty over what happened. According to figures from industry and the association, a headhunter is said to have been commissioned to search for a new VDA president. "That was the trigger that prompted Mattes to spontaneously resign," it said at the VDA headquarters in Berlin. The association is suspected that the initiative has come from VW.
The Wolfsburg-based group has long been dissatisfied with the VDA. The association represents the interests of the suppliers rather than the manufacturers, complained a high-ranking manager. It is all about the question of how quickly the transition from internal combustion engines to electric drives can succeed.
VW wants to go faster, but many suppliers depend heavily on the production of diesel and gasoline cars. "It is a conflict of objectives, which is reflected in the VDA," said the VW manager. As by far the largest financier of the organization, the Wolfsburg would have a right to insist on changes.
VW: "Nothing came from us"
Volkswagen rejected the claim that the group had turned on a headhunter on demand. "Nothing came of us," said a spokesman. A group expert also stressed that for the occupation of such top positions in the dressing world usually no recruitment agencies would be involved.
Mattes does not seem to believe this view. With the order for the headhunter, the tablecloth had been finally cut, was also reported at the VDA. Because Mattes had not been informed about this, he had taken this as a massive breach of trust and ultimately pulled the consequences.
This last chapter fit seamlessly into the picture of the past months: the VDA president was always attacked indirectly via media, it was said. At the association's internal meetings, member companies avoided commenting directly on their conduct of office. The relationship of trust has been systematically eroded during the past few months.
Mattes chose a bad time for the industry to announce his resignation. Chancellor Merkel he had reportedly also informed only after the solemn opening of the fair about his withdrawal. Once again, the main contact person in politics was snubbed at an IAA, it was said from industry circles.
Since Mattes had announced his departure on such short notice, the 18 remaining members of the VDA board could not talk about a replacement on Thursday. "A possible successor was not discussed," said a board that wanted to remain unnamed. This must be "carefully prepared in the coming weeks".
Automotive food worldwide under pressure
Representatives of several member companies said that in the future they would like to see a person close to politics on the sidelines. Mattes was head of Ford Germany before his time as VDA president, so he came from the industry. His contacts in the political Berlin were thus manageable good, industry representatives had repeatedly complained.
A political decision-maker, as Mattes' predecessor Matthias Wissmann once was, should not, according to VDA members, come into question. Wissmann had been Minister of Transport in the Cabinet of Chancellor Helmut Kohl in the 90s. There should be no identifiable conflict of interest with the personnel, it was said. An appeal by Günther Oettinger, who will give up his post as EU Commissioner in November, would be canceled.
Oettinger had been traded in recent days as a possible successor. The Code of Conduct for EU Commissioners requires a waiting period of two years if they want to switch to the private sector. In several interviews, he had last even excluded a move to VDA to Berlin.
A future president of the powerful automobile association must first and foremost take care of the future of the IAA. With the auto show, the VDA finances a large part of its annual budget: In recent years, this was up to 80 percent of spending. In the meantime, so it was said at the weekend from federation circles, the proportion on the 50-Prozent-Marke moves. The reason for this is the dwindling importance of the IAA with fewer exhibitors and smaller area.
In two years, there will be a new concept for the fair, even the traditional location Frankfurt is no longer set. Decisions should be made by January. The exhibition of the car models is losing importance, but the issue of mobility is in the center of attention. The loss of revenue at the IAA wants to compensate the VDA with new business. For example, the association sells quality and standardization standards for automobile production. "We want to expand this business," says the association.
More: Many companies have already reduced their involvement in Germany's most important auto show. Now the IAA is probably facing more radical upheavals.
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