IT WAS 1967. I had my first exposure to several large industrial enterprises in Germany and the UK. The Press Bureau of German Industry representing a consortium of six large German enterprises that constructed the Rourkela Steel Plant, provided me the opportunity to visit these units -AEG, Krupp, Mannesman, GHH, Demag and Siemens. The German government also provided facilities to cover a few other large enterprises including Daimler Benz, VDO, Volkswagen, Robert Bosch and the Hanover Fair.
It was my first visit to manufacturing plants in a developed country. Germany, which re-built rapidly after the devastation it suffered during the Second World War, was booming. The industrious population succeeded in re-building the economy and was enjoying an economic boom. There were the Volkswagen Beetle cars everywhere! The Wolfsburg plant was producing around 6200 Beetles every day for German and global markets. The DM was modestly priced.
They (German) had the best of both worlds…
A fortnight later, I was visiting leading automobile plants in the UK. These were re-built around their old, crowded, war-ravaged plants and were a contrast to the easy flowing production lines of the German factories. I remember the comment of the head of public relations at Rootes Motors : “the bxxxxx ds had the best of both worlds. They lost the war, but how beautifully they have re-built the factories; so new and so efficient!” I could see the stark contrast when I visited auto plants in Manchester, once the textile capital for the world, re-designed for auto units. The old chimneys and the crowded layout did not allow for laying efficient production lines for mass production.
Those British auto units that flourished for decades, including Rootes Motors, BMC, Standard Triumph, British Leyland, Joseph Lucas, Forte Dunlop... folded up over the next couple of decades. While the German icons including Daimler Benz, BMW and Volkswagen continued to flourish and maintained their lead in global markets.
Siemens, Daimler Benz, Bosch… sustained by R&D...
I remember visiting the sophisticated R&D centre of Siemens at Munich and the sophisticated test track of Daimler Benz at Stuttgart. Later, I visited the R&D facilities of Robert Bosch and the dozens of research units of the Fraunhover Institute. I realised the reason for the German’s pre-eminence in manufacturing that enabled them to maintain their competitiveness, despite the German DM becoming so strong: large corporations including Daimler Benz, Siemens and Robert Bosch were spending around 10 per cent of their huge turnover on R&D. This is best reflected in their registering patents in profuse and in extending technology across the globe. This commitment to R&D made a deep impact on me.