In Strasskirchen, a quiet town an hour and a half drive from Munich, around 2,700 voters are called on Sunday to vote for or against the establishment of a mega factory by the Bavarian car giant.
The project serves as a signal now that German industry is going through a period of slump, is confronted with high energy costs and drying up order books from abroad.
Added to this are stricter legal requirements and more attractive subsidies offered elsewhere, especially in the United States, all vectors that are pushing entrepreneurs to reconsider their ‘made in Germany’ establishments.
For its part, BMW plans to invest “several hundreds of millions of euros” in this plant “which is central to the development of electric vehicles in Germany,” says Alexander Kiy, head of the manufacturer’s Strasskirchen factory project.
The planned site will eventually employ more than 3,200 people and supply 600,000 high-voltage batteries per year, which will then be installed in new electric models sourced from the Bavarian factories of Regensburg, Munich and Dingolfing, BMW’s largest European car plant.
– Arable land –
Suffice to say, a rejection of the project on Sunday would seriously jeopardize the planned launch around 2025 of the X3 manufacturer’s new range of electric vehicles.
Because batteries are large and heavy, production facilities must be located as close as possible to vehicle assembly lines.
BMW is already applying this strategy to its factories abroad in Hungary, the United States, Mexico and China.
The municipality of Strasskirchen was chosen because it also met this proximity criterion. But some residents are opposing the car giant, fearing that their rural area, south of the Danube and the Bavarian Forest, will become an industrial zone, with an increase in road traffic.
“More than 100 hectares of agricultural land would be destroyed forever,” a mistake “from the perspective of climate change,” said Thomas Spötzl, 44, spokesman for a movement to oppose BMW.
On the contrary, the manufacturer offers “a huge opportunity for the region to invest in sustainable technologies and jobs of the future,” answers Martin Götz, 45 years old, from Strasskirchen and spokesperson for an association that supports the project.
The two camps have been tearing each other apart for months.
– Reluctance –
“For Bavaria, and for the whole of Germany, it should still be possible to create a large industrial estate of this type,” says Armin Soller, mayor of the neighboring village of Irlbach, also affected by BMW’s planned location.
But “there is a clear reluctance to create industrial sites in Germany,” underlines Milan Nedeljkovic, member of the BMW board responsible for production.
However, the country needs “a commitment to economic growth, especially in times of energy and digital transformation,” he added.
However, several major industrial projects have been announced in Europe’s largest economy in recent months, such as semiconductor manufacturing plants, backed by world leaders in the sector.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz recently called on regions, municipalities and even the parliamentary opposition to support a ‘German pact’ to make the country more agile, dynamic and less bureaucratic, but this has not really convinced economic circles.
“We need a global concept that guarantees the maintenance of our competitiveness and our locations,” Arno Antliz, chief financial officer of the giant Volkswagen, told the press in Frankfurt on Monday.
A few days before the referendum, Strasskirchen mayor Christian Hirtreiter wants to believe that “the mood is now clearly in favor of BMW”.
In the event of a favorable vote on Sunday, BMW would counter a defection movement from the company in the canton.
For example, a paper mill in the adjacent industrial area in Plattling, with 500 employees, announced its closure in July. High energy costs are cited as a reason.