After a week in which Daimler and Audi announced thousands of job cuts, it's easy to forget that the German car industry once seemed unassailable.
The 2009 recession forced a massive downsizing of America's auto giants. General Motors and Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection; Ford escaped a similar fate only by cutting its workforce to the bone.
By contrast, Volkswagen Group, BMW and Mercedes-Benz overcame the crisis with barely a scratch. Afterwards they took full advantage as wealthy Chinese spent on luxury German vehicles. Germany's automakers and their suppliers went on a hiring spree at home and abroad.
There were early signs of hubris: Volkswagen paid its CEO 17.5 million euros ($19.3 million) in 2011. But Germany's powerful trade unions made sure workers benefited too. In recent years production line staff at BMW and VW's Porsche subsidiary took home almost 10,000 euros ($11,000) as an annual bonus. BMW spends an average of more than 100,000 euros per employee on salary, pension and social security costs, according to its annual report.
Now that jobs boom has come to a screeching halt, and not before time. An industry facing unprecedented upheaval cannot afford such largess.