The Automotive market in Europe has slowed significantly, as confirmed by the latest general assembly of the Italian association of screws and bolts manufacturers (UPIVEB). The backlash was strong and also hit fastener producers, who see the automotive industry as their main reference market.
In this regard, we had a long chat with Paolo Dell’Era, CEO of Viteria Dell'Era di Ermanno & Figlio Srl, historic manufacturer of standard and special cold-forged screws headquartered in Italy. We talked about E-Mobility, Asia, Europe and the future of the Fastener industry.
What is your relationship with the Automotive industry?
Our company has been operating in the automotive sector for several years. We do not work directly with car manufacturers, but with large screw and bolt suppliers who serve the big players in the field, such as FCA, Ferrari, Iveco, Volkswagen, Daimler, etc. We also collaborate with other companies within the industry, such as Brembo and Wabco, regarding the braking systems for cars and trucks, respectively. To further strengthen our presence in the sector, in 2018 we obtained the IATF 16949:2016 Automotive certification. Today we export 50% of our products to Europe, especially in Germany and France. We have a fairly consolidated distribution also in the countries of the north and east, such as Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Poland, as well as some customers in Spain and Switzerland.
Fastener and Automotive: what is the situation?
Let's start from the beginning: the financial blackout of 2008 obviously affected our sector too, and in those years our production capacity was drastically reduced by over 40%. From 2010 onwards, we have seen a slow and steady recovery, also characterized by some extremely positive trends, especially in the last five years. During the first half of 2018 we recorded an extraordinary +20% compared to the same period of 2017: a rather inexplicable trend, immediately followed by a big market slowdown in the last quarter of 2018. This downshift continued in a swinging manner until the end of the first half of 2019. The causes are many: the Dieselgate in Germany, the "war" waged by Europe against traditional engines, especially Diesel, and the lack of preparation of European car manufacturers to meet the growing demand for hybrid and electric cars. All this has certainly contributed to the current market stagnation.
What about Asia?
In Asia the situation is quite different; China, Japan and Taiwan are all focusing on the electric vehicle. In particular, in China there are extremely ambitious investment plans for the five-year period 2020 - 2025, and over a hundred parastatal companies are ready to flood the market with their innovative electric vehicles. Not to mention batteries, production R&D, etc. In Europe the only one to have moved in this direction is PSA group (Citroën; DS; Ambassador; Opel; Peugeot; Vauxhall; Aixam and Opel). Actually, BMW is also participating in the electric car rush, but unfortunately it prefers to open new factories in the Far East rather than making direct investments in Europe.
A gloomy future for Europe?
The European market is in a stalemate and we do not know if and when we will find a way out. What is certain is that Europe is a long way behind the Far East, especially with regard to the production of electric vehicles, but also for hybrids. In my opinion, electric cars can not represent the univocal solution to the emission problems we have today, and certainly also the hybrid vehicles will have an important impact. New technologies will be needed: we started hearing about the hydrogen engine, we'll see what happens. Surely, diesel and petrol engines will not be supplanted in the short term; at least in Europe.
And in Italy?
If you want to start an industrial revolution you need to be ready; and Italy certainly isn't. Mostly in terms of infrastructures: the country is totally unprepared to host a large number of electric cars. First you need to create a substrate, then you can think about investing in a particular field. In other Northern European countries, which have been smart enough to invest in this direction in recent years, there will be a completely different impact. In Italy for the moment there are no conditions.
Are there any sectors that, in terms of volumes, are able to compensate for the lack of demand in the Automotive industry?
I don't see any others. Oil & Gas is fine, but it has ups and downs, as for the household appliance sector, well, we lost it a long time ago, even if there are some tepid returns. If the Automotive sector stops, Italian and German industries stop too. Unfortunately it does not depend on our companies, but on the strategic choices of governments. In my opinion, today, in Italy, very few strategic economic choices are made.
In this regard: what is your opinion about the recent Italy-China Belt and Road agreement?
We have been much criticized in Europe for this. However, I remember that the Chinese president met France and Germany immediately after Italy, as he did before with United States, Russia and other major world players. We must be careful: European myopia has already caused the collapse of the Greek economy some years ago. What did this entail? The failure of a state that had to turn to the Chinese. The super strategic port of Piraeus was sold to China almost 10 years ago.
That said, it is absolutely necessary to think of China as a future partner and not as an enemy that wants to invade us, also because they are already doing it, they have already done it and they will continue to do it. Chinese came to us with this Belt and Road agreement because they are interested in the port of Trieste and other strategic places. We just have to be careful to not sell off our assets. I don’t see the Belt and Road Initiative in a negative way: the goods travel in both directions and of course we are scared of an invasion of Chinese products, but we also have the opportunity to reach a market that today is still very far away from us. We live in a globalized world.