China’s auto staff bear the brunt of value conflict as fallout widens By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Staff work on meeting line throughout a development completion occasion of SAIC Volkswagen MEB electrical automobile plant in Shanghai, China November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Music/File Photograph


SHANGHAI (Reuters) – As Shanghai sweltered in a heatwave in June, the automotive manufacturing unit the place Mike Chen works switched manufacturing to nighttime shifts and dialled down the air-conditioning.

For Chen, toiling via the early hours in his sweat-soaked uniform, it was the newest slap within the face after cuts in bonuses and time beyond regulation slashed his month-to-month pay this yr to little greater than a 3rd of what he earned when he was employed in 2016.

Chen, 32, who works for a three way partnership between China’s state-owned automotive large SAIC and Germany’s Volkswagen (ETR:), is way from alone. Hundreds of thousands of auto staff and suppliers in China are feeling the warmth as an electrical automobile value conflict forces carmakers to shave prices anyplace they’ll.

“SAIC-VW was the most effective employer and I felt honoured to work right here,” mentioned Chen. “Now I simply really feel offended and unhappy.”

The value conflict triggered by Tesla (NASDAQ:) has sucked in additional than 40 manufacturers, shifted demand away from older fashions and compelled some automakers to curb manufacturing of each EVs and combustion-engine automobiles, or shut factories altogether.

Reuters interviews with 10 executives of carmakers and auto elements suppliers, in addition to seven manufacturing unit staff, level to a broader trade in misery, with penny-pinching on every little thing from elements to electrical energy payments to wages – which is in flip hitting spending elsewhere within the economic system.

Requested concerning the SAIC-VW plant the place Chen works, which makes combustion-engine automobiles, VW mentioned pay at joint ventures different primarily based on working hours and bonuses. It mentioned making automobiles at evening eased the burden on energy grids and that wholesome, good working circumstances have been a excessive precedence. SAIC didn’t reply.

Economists warn that China’s auto sector might even change into a drag on financial development due to the fallout from the value conflict, which might be a stark turnaround for a automotive trade that’s by far the world’s greatest.

The issue is that whereas there was enormous funding in manufacturing capability, helped by giant state subsidies, home demand for automobiles has stagnated and family incomes stay below strain, economists say.

Within the first seven months of 2023, China offered 11.4 million automobiles at dwelling and exported 2 million, however development got here virtually fully from overseas. Exports leapt 81% however home gross sales solely crept 1.7% greater – regardless of the widespread value cuts.

“The deal with manufacturing and provide is lopsided,” mentioned George Magnus, analysis affiliate at Oxford College’s China Centre, including that insufficient consideration to demand in the end results in stock overhang, value cuts and monetary stress.

“China actually has to be taught to stroll on two legs.”


Chinese language vegetation already have been removed from operating at full tilt when Tesla first minimize costs in October final yr after which once more in January. CEO Elon Musk has since doubled-down on his technique with extra cuts introduced final month.

Together with factories making combustion-engine automobiles, China had the capability to supply 43 million autos a yr on the finish of 2022, however the plant utilisation charge was 54.5%, down from 66.6% in 2017, China Passenger Automotive Affiliation (CPCA) information present.

On the similar time, pay cuts and lay-offs within the auto trade and its suppliers – which make use of an estimated 30 million folks in response to Chinese language state media – are hitting dwelling requirements at a time when Beijing desperately desires to carry shopper confidence from close to report lows.

Chopping salaries is against the law in China, however complicated pay buildings provide methods round this.

SAIC-VW, for instance, was in a position to cut back Mike Chen’s take-home pay by decreasing working hours and chopping bonuses, with out tinkering together with his base pay, which generally covers as much as half the compensation staff count on after they be part of.

BYD (SZ:), China’s largest EV maker, marketed a place in August at its Shenzhen manufacturing unit with an estimated month-to-month revenue of 5,000-7,000 yuan, however the base wage was 2,360 yuan ($324).

The typical month-to-month wage in China was 11,300 yuan in June, in response to authorities information.

A Reuters evaluation of the estimated revenue included in current job adverts from 30 auto companies confirmed hourly salaries of 14 yuan ($1.93) to 31 yuan ($4.27), with Tesla, SAIC-GM, Li Auto and Xpeng (NYSE:) on the greater finish.

Auto employee Liu, 35, mentioned he give up Changan Vehicle’s plant in Hefei in July after incomes 4,000 yuan in each Could and June, somewhat than the 7,000 he anticipated every month. Based mostly on his previous experiences, Liu was assured he would shortly discover one other auto job, however the market had turned.

“The great previous days are gone,” mentioned Liu, talking on situation of partial anonymity to guard his job prospects.

Changan Vehicle mentioned working hours and pay different from employee to employee.

A number of automakers together with Mitsubishi Motors (OTC:) and Toyota have laid off 1000’s in China after gross sales slumped. Others resembling Tesla and battery maker CATL have slowed hiring as they delayed expansions. Hyundai (OTC:) and its Chinese language associate, in the meantime, are attempting to promote a plant in Chongqing.

After being rejected by Li Auto and Xpeng, Liu virtually acquired a job at Chery’s plant within the japanese port of Qingdao via a labour agent, however he refused to pay him a 32,000 yuan fee to safe the place.

“Some factories exhaust you and are keen to pay you extra. Some factories exhaust you, however are stingy. Some factories do not exhaust you, however starve you as salaries are too low,” Liu mentioned.

“Perhaps I would be higher off as a safety employee in some workplace constructing.”


It has been a equally brutal setting for auto suppliers in China as automotive costs have continued to fall, with the weighted common transaction value of EVs and hybrids in June down 15% from January at 185,100 yuan.

SAIC-VW, for instance, supplied over half a billion {dollars} in money subsidies for automotive patrons in March and a reduction of simply over $5,100 on its ID.3 electrical hatchback for a interval in July.

State-run China Automotive Information estimates there are over 100,000 auto suppliers within the nation. In a March survey of practically 2,000 by auto elements buying and selling platform Gasgoo, 74% mentioned automakers had requested them to scale back prices.

Greater than half have been requested for reductions of 5% to 10%, greater than the three% to five% targets of earlier years. 9 out of 10 firms anticipated extra such requests this yr.

Suppliers usually negotiate costs every year, however many have been pressed to decrease costs on a quarterly foundation in 2023, two senior executives at auto suppliers mentioned.

Earlier than it kicked off the value conflict, Tesla despatched emails to its direct suppliers, encouraging them to decrease prices by 10% this yr, in response to an individual with direct information of the matter.

And in June, a bunch of small suppliers wrote to state-owned Changan Vehicle to push again in opposition to 10% value reductions.

The EV battery market has additionally turned, with suppliers chopping costs for automakers. CATL, which counts Tesla as its greatest consumer, supplied smaller home EV makers discounted batteries in February.

Lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, the sort utilized by Tesla in China, have been 21% cheaper in August than 5 months in the past, whereas nickel-cobalt batteries have been 9% to 18% cheaper, RealLi Analysis information present.

When Chen Yudong, head of Bosch’s China operations visited one in all his greatest prospects in March, he obtained an uncommon current, a chopping knife with a message engraved on its sheath: “Reduce decisively via the mess.”

Three months later, he advised Reuters that value cuts had been extra aggressive in 2023 than in earlier years.

“They have been holding me awake at evening.”

($1 = 7.2951 renminbi)

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