Germany’s Federal State of Saxony is positioning itself as being in the “pole position” of the what it is calling the “second automobile revolution”.
Today’s innovative fields are modern hybrid and electric mobility solutions, developments for autonomous driving, lightweight construction in an efficient material mix, resource-efficient production technologies as well as new traffic concepts and solutions. In these fields, industry and research work hand-in-hand and advance solutions for sustainable mobility, according to the Saxony Economic Development Corporation.
The automobile industry is also the driving force of Saxony’s manufacturing industry. Its
approximately 95,000 employees, more than 80% of whom work in the supply industry, which is responsible for more than a quarter of Saxony’s industrial production. Starting with the “Coswiga,” Saxony has been producing cars since 1900, and has a history of innovation. DKW started manufacturing the world’s first mass-produced front-wheel-wheel drive vehicle, the F1, in 1931, followed in 1955 by Germany’s first vehicle with a mas-produced plastic body – the Sachsenring P70 (later known as the “Trabant”.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Dr Peter Homilius, Vice President Strategy/Industry Sectors/Marketing, Saxony Economic Development Corporation, what advantage “Autoland Saxony” offers in the development of lightweight technologies for vehicles?
Homilius: Saxony can build on a long tradition in materials science for lightweight construction. In Dresden around 2,500 materials scientists and engineers can be found working on the lightweight materials and products of tomorrow; at the Dresden University of Technology (TU Dresden); numerous institutes, including Fraunhofer, Leibniz, Max Planck and Helmholtz; and at numerous private companies throughout the city.
With the Cluster of Excellence “Merge Technologies for Multifunctional Lightweight Structures (MERGE)” in Chemnitz and the Institute of Lightweight Engineering and Polymer Technology in Dresden, Europe’s two largest R&D centers for lightweight construction are located in Saxony.
The BMW Plant Leipzig is one of the most modern and sustainable automobile factories worldwide – with a current staff of approx. 5,300 employees. More than 980 cars roll off the assembly line every day, of which 120 are vehicles of the BMW i3 and i8 model series.
The latter excel not only with their alternative drive systems, but also with their car bodies made of the lightweight material CFRP (Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastics). This is the first time that large-batch production has been implemented for passenger compartments made of CFRP.
Other leaders in the automotive sector can also be found in Saxony. ThyssenKrupp, for example, has not only built an R&D center for the development of car battery production technologies near Chemnitz, but it has also concentrated its entire R&D activities in the CFRP sector near Dresden since 2013.
Last, but not least: Saxony’s lightweight construction expertise can be found in many products around the world. Just one example: Every passenger who boards an Airbus is literally supported by Saxon technology, as the floor plates are manufactured by the principal supplier EFW Elbe Flugzeugwerke in Dresden (a company of the ST Aerospace and Airbus Groups).
AI: What incentives does the Federal State of Saxony offer companies investing in new automotive technologies?
Homilius: A wide range of funding instruments for investment projects is available in Saxony. These instruments include direct subsidies and subordinated loans. In addition, it is possible to combine the investment support with labor market and technology funding instruments.
If new employees are to be optimally qualified or long-term employees of a company are to be prepared for new tasks and duties, then the Federal State of Saxony and the Federal Employment Agency provide diverse funding options – for example, when it comes to the employment of unemployed persons or the recruitment of R&D staff.
With considerable applied technology funding, the Federal State of Saxony promotes the innovation activities of Saxony’s business community, which is unique in Germany in quality and financial volume. The requisite instruments include, for example, R&D project funding, technology transfer funding, the “InnoPrämie” innovation grant as well as the support of “Innovation and Transfer Assistants,” “InnoManagers,” “InnoExperts,” and “InnoTeams.
AI: How do automotive companies which have traditionally been in the region benefited by the range of new technologies emerging from research centers in the area?
Homilius: When it comes to research and development, Saxony is well ahead of the competition. Research institutions both with and without university affiliations are concentrated along the Dresden–Freiberg–Chemnitz corridor like nowhere else in Germany. The regional research landscape creates the breeding ground for many engineers. Three of the major Saxon universities (Technical University of Dresden, Technical University of Chemnitz, Freiberg University of Mining and Technology) and the Zwickau University of Applied Sciences focus on Automotive Technology, Automotive Electronics, Traffic System Engineering, Automotive Assembly, Electromobility, Automotive Informatics, Automotive Engineering etc.
As a subsidiary of the Volkswagen Sachsen, the Volkswagen Bildungsinstitut educational institution – with locations in Zwickau and Chemnitz – has been providing vocational training, continued education, and human resource development services to the VW parent company, other corporate units as well as to suppliers and other companies in Saxony since 1990. The competence center conducts initial professional education and vocational training, offers branch-specific continued education programs, and assists companies in human resource development. Together with the Zwickau University of Applied Sciences, it provides cooperative studies for prospective engineers. It permits its graduates to get their skilled worker certification parallel to a university degree.
AI: How have Invest in Saxony (The Saxony Economic Development Corporation) along with research universities helped push the cause of new automotive technologies?
Homilius: An example is that, while organizing workshops for companies and research universities, the Saxony Economic Development Corporation has always supported the cause of new automotive technologies. We always coordinate relevant topics with the Saxon clusters – therefore, we have the opportunity to strategically focus on diverse subjects such as sensor technologies.
AI: What are some of the new investments from automotive companies in Saxony?
Homilius: The VW Group has been committed to Saxony for more than 25 years now. Volkswagen Sachsen employs about 10,000 people in its Vehicle Plant Zwickau, its Engine Plant Chemnitz, and in the “Transparent Factory” in Dresden. Within the scope of its e-mobility campaign, VW also relies on the unique competences available in “Autoland Saxony:” Starting in 2020, the “I.D.,” the VW Group’s first newly designed electric vehicle, will conquer the streets of the world – manufactured completely at the corporate site Zwickau. For this purpose, Volkswagen is investing another 1 billion euros in Zwickau. The factory in Saxony is, thus, a pacesetter within the new e-campaign of Germany’s largest automobile manufacturer.
Investment enquiries have definitely increased during the past months – mainly in the sector of electromobility. At the moment all of the projects are still in progress, and we may not give any information about them.