The largest automobile plant in the world is dead in the April sun. No worker far and wide. Up to one million vehicles can be manufactured in the Wolfsburg halls every year. At the end of the bridge over the Mittelland Canal, only one of the guards greets you VolkswagenSecurity team. He keeps his distance. “Corona,” he says with defensive hands.
The blast furnaces of Salzgitter AG are located not far from the Autostadt in Lower Saxony. The group has cut steel production, hardly a cloud leaves the chimneys towards the sky. Why too? Steel for cars is not in demand right now.
The aircraft of Frankfurt Airport are parked on a tarmac at Frankfurt Airport Lufthansa. Hundreds of onlookers stand at the fences despite initial corona restrictions. The silence on the four runways is unusual, historical. Most flight attendants and pilots’ duty rosters remain empty these days.
They are the scenes of a country at a standstill. Streets without cars, sights without tourists, trains without passengers. Everything is subordinated to the fight against the corona virus, social life, culture, the economy: for the first time since the end of the Second World War, Germany’s assembly lines have been standing still. It’s zero hour, if you will.
The shutdown saves lives. But Germany also pays a price for this: the Ifo Institute calculated exactly 42 billion euros per week. These are “astronomical costs,” says Ifo President Clemens Fuest. “This roughly corresponds to the German defense budget”.
The first month of standstill will soon be over. And that raises a few crucial questions: How long can a rich economy endure such a situation? What can a way back to normal look like? And above all: how can companies prepare for the time after the crisis?
According to a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a third of the companies are threatened with a lockdown after three months. Another third could last four to six months. During this time, the companies would lose so much substance that they would hardly be able to start again.
Starting up, however, is much more difficult than driving down: Every new business, every additional euro of sales after the start, costs the company money – for example, for the purchase of preliminary products.
With these numbers, the pressure on politics increases. The first easing measures could be decided at a federal-state conference on Tuesday, the first step on the long road to normalcy. “We need a clear road map that will get public and economic life going again,” says Armin Laschet, Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia and candidate for the CDU party chair.
Health is the top priority. For a successful restart of social life, clinics need sufficient protective equipment and beds – medical capacities so that doctors can care for patients. The return to normality is “a question of judgment and not a trade-off between human life and the economy,” says BayerChief Werner Baumann.
In a previously unpublished paper, the Institute for Research on Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises calls for the exit from shutdown to be handled with particular care. You only have one attempt, after that there is no turning back. The start-up of the economy had to be flexible in phases and regionally. Priority should not be given solely on the basis of the economic contribution, but on how quickly a company can start operating again – and how important the products are for everyday life.
Corporations like Volkswagen, Salzgitter or airbus have plans for the restart already in the drawer. But the new era cannot be planned in detail. In many cases, the supply chains are too complex and complex, and hardly anyone can say when they will function smoothly again.
An important first step would therefore be the end of border controls in the European Union, says Gabriel Felbermayr, President of the Institute for the World Economy.
BCG and McKinsey management consultants unanimously demand that companies need a time perspective for the restart as early as possible. Because they have to prepare their company and their supply chains with a lead of several weeks or even months. The earlier the restart in the supply chain can be communicated, the better.
CEO Herbert Diess has been stuck in Wolfsburg for some time. With the exception of one machine, VW keeps its entire aircraft fleet on the ground. No employee should be infected on the otherwise regular commuting flights within VW’s own network.
In general, travel activities at the global corporation have been suspended since March 16. This remains at the headquarters and no longer commutes to his family on weekends in Munich, as in the period before the crisis.
If the management conference, then only in large rooms. “We will then be seated with enough space between us,” says VW HR Manager Gunnar Kilian. Most of the time, however, the panel joins in via video. “This is the best protection,” says one of them. competitor Daimler leaves his board of directors in two groups to avoid taking risks.
No economy in the world can endure such a state of emergency in the long term. Werner Baumann (CEO Bayer)
Caution is a must: a number of top decision-makers had to go into quarantine because they had come into contact with people infected with corona. Especially in times of crisis, an illness at the top of the company can have fatal consequences.
Also Osram-Chef Olaf Berlien has almost stopped working. Despite the corona crisis, he goes to the office every day and wants to show presence. Most employees in the administration in Munich city center wear gloves and protective masks. Berlien himself, he wants to create trust. But business is getting more and more difficult. The demand for lighting technology is weak, six of the 26 Osram factories are shut down.
The CEO sees the Federal Government’s measures in the fight against the corona virus as appropriate. But it is also clear that “we cannot keep the stores and factories closed for three months. We have to start up again as soon as possible. ”
Berlien is not alone in such considerations. “We need a good strategy when and how we can return to a regular, normal everyday life,” says Bayer CEO Baumann. “No economy in the world can endure such a state of emergency in the long term.”
The infection had to be managed, fellow citizens with special risks had to be protected – so that large sections of the population could go about their everyday lives again. “How exactly that can be done has to be analyzed very carefully and made responsibly,” says Baumann.
Support comes from politics. “We now have to give people and companies a perspective on when we will gradually loosen which measures,” says Carsten Linnemann. If it is up to the chairman of the middle class and economic union of the CDU / CSU, then in the weeks after Easter “under strict conditions” production should start up again, transport routes should be easier and some of the shops should be opened.
The federal government can only answer the big question of when Germany will flip the switch again in consultation with the federal states. A decision could be made on Tuesday after Easter during the conversation between Merkel and the Prime Minister.