Au Parlement de Strasbourg, le 8 juin dernier, a été prise la décision la plus importante de l

Who will be the Kodak of the automotive industry?

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It is done. Or almost. Last week’s vote in the Parliament of Strasbourg, and the date of June 8, 2022, will mark the automotive industry forever. Because the total switch to all-electric, which should be effective on January 1, 2035, is undoubtedly the most important event in the automotive industry since the prototype of Carl Benz’s first car in 1886.

“A big leap into the void”?

However, if the European manufacturers grouped within the ACEA accepted the sentence, feeling ready for the transformation, other organizations such as the PFA (the automotive platform which brings together French brands, equipment manufacturers and service companies in the sector) are rather headwind. Its president, Luc Chatel, squarely describes the future directive as “great leap into the void and industrial scuttling”.

For its managing director, Marc Mortureux, the case is “of an extreme radicalism that I don’t see in any other sectorOn the other side of the Rhine, the managing director of the VDMA (association of German machinery and equipment manufacturers), Hartmut Rauen does not hesitate for a second and quite simply qualifies the upheaval “of major geopolitical risk in Europe”, since, according to him, Russia and China hold the keys to access to the raw materials needed for the electric car.

Kodak invented digital, rejected it and died of it.

In short, they do not believe in it, and refuse the future of the zero-emission car imposed by Brussels. There is another company that did not believe in it and also rejected the future. This company was called Kodak. The little yellow box was, in the 20th century, a huge box, which held the leadership fixed or cinematographic, amateur or professional silver image.

At the time of its splendor, in the 1980s, it employed 145,000 people throughout the world, generated a turnover of 13 billion dollars and a profit of 2.1 billion. And then, in 2012, it threw in the towel, putting itself under the American bankruptcy regime by laying off 95% of its employees. What happened ? Digital of course, which, in the early 2000s, swept away the good old stuff (Kodak) and the chemicals (Kodak) necessary for its development as well as its printing on paper (Kodak).

“Do you think people would like to see their photos on a television? »

However, at the end of the 1970s, an in-house engineer had developed an entirely new process which made it possible, thanks to a sensor and pixels, to capture an image and broadcast it through a cathode-ray tube. He is convinced, but not his CEO who answered him curtly, “Do you really think people would like to see their photos on television? » He was also, and above all, aware that such a revolution was going to kill the goose that lay the golden eggs of the consumable that made the success of the company, and had no desire to overturn the table of his business model. We know the rest of the story and the fall of the Kodak empire.

Faced with the photographic hecatomb of the deceased colossus, and listening to the reactions of some of the automobile manufacturers, one cannot help but draw the parallel. What if the Kodak gene had won the industry? Doesn’t persisting in wanting to defend thermal technology against winds and tides amount to fighting to preserve film in the digital age? Especially since the arguments put forward by the opponents of the Strasbourg decision are not really convincing.

Workers on the first assembly line at Ford in 1913. Since then, times have changed.
Workers on the first assembly line at Ford in 1913. Since then, times have changed.

Because they castigate the electric car, explaining, in bulk, that it lacks autonomy, that the charging infrastructures are in the bag and that the raw materials come from Asia. They just forget that the changeover must take place in 13 long years and take absolutely no account of the development capacities of their own sector and of the public authorities, as if everyone remained frozen in 2022. Which amounts to disregarding of their brilliant R&D engineers and make none of the ability of states in the union to install bollards.

A social breakdown that must be anticipated, not denied

On the other hand, they are right on one point: the social damage that the changeover will cause. Of course, the transition to all-electric will require fewer people in the workshops. But here again, companies, like public authorities, have 13 years to anticipate, train and retrain these employees. Arching on the stillborn idea that thermal power can last is the guarantee that these hundreds of thousands of operators, technicians and engineers will find themselves in 2035 faced with the fait accompli of lack of work and unemployment. .

This industrial denial in which certain organizations and certain decision-makers seem immersed, recalls another. Not at Kodak, not in the United States, but in France, in Lorraine. This is where the steel industry, which had become obsolete in France since the 1970s, was kept at arm’s length and subsidized at a loss by successive governments. Before collapsing for good, leaving thousands of workers on the floor, for lack of projection and anticipation of the companies that employed them, and the public authorities that kept them on a drip. Let’s hope that the automobile is neither the steel industry nor the little yellow box of this first half of the 21st century.

#Kodak #automotive #industry

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