Daimler doubles down on austerity as electric era beckons

If investors needed further proof that the transition by German carmakers to electromobility will be painful, Tuesday's news conference by Daimler Chief Executive Ola Källenius certainly provided it.
Despite another record-selling year for the firm's Mercedes brand, the luxury auto manufacturer announced its 2019 net profit fell by almost two thirds to €2.7 billion ($2.9 billion). In the fourth quarter, the Stuttgart-based company lost €11 million, compared with a profit of €1.64 billion in the year-earlier quarter.
The firm said it had set aside an extra €1.5 billion in charges relating to the Dieselgate scandal that saw some 700,000 of its vehicles fitted with devices that could skirt pollution regulations. The figure is in addition to the €4 billion already announced, to deal with legal costs, recalls and fines.
Källenius admitted the next three years would be "tough" for Daimler and promised to work "around the clock" to return the firm to a better footing. He said the company had introduced far-reaching measures to reduce costs, referencing the €1.4 billion austerity program announced last year.
Electric investment is critical
Daimler's woes are exacerbated by the huge investment it is currently undertaking in electromobility and autonomous transport, as it seeks to dethrone US rival Tesla as the king of the battery-powered-luxury-car market. But having previously underestimated the speed of the technological change, the German national treasure now faces a huge uphill battle.
"Daimler has fallen behind, especially when it comes to the No.1 topic of the future: e-mobility," auto analyst Jürgen Pieper told DW ahead of the news conference. "It is actually in danger of falling out of the group of companies leading us towards this new future."
Earlier on Tuesday, the firm restated its plan to undertake a "worldwide, socially responsible reduction of jobs," including the cutting of management positions. However, Källenius did not give specific figures. 
A day earlier, the German business daily Handelsblatt reported that he would announce plans to cut 15,000 staff — a third more than announced last year — as mass electric vehicle production will require far fewer assembly workers.
Although there was no mention of the higher figure in the news conference, Chief Financial Officer Harald Wilhelm estimated the total cost of the corporate restructuring would be around €2 billion.
Daimler said it would also slash employee profit-sharing bonuses from nearly €5,000 to just €600. Investors, meanwhile, will see a dividend of just 90 cents per share versus €3.25 last year.

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