Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser has a stark warning for Germany's automakers: Manage the electric vehicle revolution shaking up the industry, or face violent consequences that inevitably come with mass unemployment.
"We'll still have cars in the streets, but they won't be electric, they'll be burning," Kaeser told reporters late Monday. "The success of Germany depends on this one industry."
Kaeser has been at the helm of the country's second-biggest company for half a decade and has increasingly used the position to comment on the political and industrial changes sweeping through Europe's biggest economy. He has criticized mounting populism in German politics and urged manufacturers, which form the backbone of the economy, to make the leap to greater automation in factories.
At Siemens, Kaeser is in the midst of cutting thousands of jobs in Germany and shutting a local factory at Goerlitz in response to a sharp downturn in demand for power plant turbines. Rival General Electric is also shedding workers in response to the trend.
Yet for Kaeser, the situation at Siemens "would look like a small story" compared to what the country's car industry could go through if it doesn't successfully navigate the technological transformation to electric and self-driving vehicles.
To add to the urgency, German automakers Volkswagen Group, BMW, and Daimler are also facing the fallout from scandals related to diesel emissions that have led to huge fines and the jailing of executives.
Though Siemens doesn't produce cars, it supplies automakers as well as their suppliers with factory automation equipment, Kaeser said. That means any collapse in orders for the car industry would have an impact on Siemens as well.