Industry is experiencing a black year

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Chip production at Infineon

Europe depends on suppliers from overseas.

(Photo: Bloomberg)

Munich There are still three weeks left until New Year's Eve. In the chip industry, however, they would like to check off in 2019. After all, it has not gone as badly as this year since the financial crisis at the end of the last decade. The industry association ZVEI estimates that sales worldwide plummeted by 12 percent to 413 billion dollars (373 billion euros).

The industry suffers from the fact that significantly less smartphones went around the counters around the globe, that fewer tablets and PCs were sold, and also under the declining sales figures of carmakers.

In addition, the trade dispute between the US and China as well as the impending Brexit had a massive impact on the business, said Stephan zur Verth, chairman of the ZVEI semiconductor group, in Munich on Thursday. In Germany, the manufacturers' revenues were also shrunk by twelve percent.

This ends a rapid upswing. In the two years before, the proceeds were at first a good one-fifth, in 2018 still shot up by 14 percent. This year, however, virtually all important customer groups had shopped less, so to Verth.

The drop in sales, however, is not the only concern of the industry association. Rather, the ZVEI fears fundamentally about the chip industry in this country. For years, Europe's share of the world market has dimmed at nine percent, with Germany accounting for just over three percent.

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This was critical for the Federal Republic and the entire continent, warns Verthh: “The semiconductors are a key technology to survive in international competition.” That applies just for the German flagship industry, the vehicle. “95 percent of all innovations in the car are driven by chips,” said the manager, who for NXP is working.

Other core sectors in this country, such as mechanical engineering, also relied on the small electronic components and not least future-oriented areas such as robotics.

Depending on foreign countries

There is a lot of talk about technological sovereignty at the moment, and Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier wants to make Germany less dependent on suppliers from overseas. The ZVEI has just set up a working group to investigate the effects of a delivery stop by foreign manufacturers.

That they would be dramatic, is already clear: Since the bankruptcy of the Munich-based manufacturer Qimonda ten years ago, there is not a single European memory chip producer more. Even the vital processors, the brains of every computer, all come from overseas companies.

“We discuss a wide variety of scenarios,” explained Sven Baumann, microelectronics expert at the ZVEI. But there are still no results available.

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For months, the telecommunications supplier Huawei is in the criticism, the Chinese are not least US President Donald Trump as a security risk in the expansion of mobile networks. Therefore, he has prohibited US companies to supply the group. This drastic step has also awakened the ZVEI. The central question is: What happens if such an embargo should hit Germany?

With the chips, the Chinese hardly play a role. Producers from the People's Republic represent only four percent of the industry turnover. They are US corporations that occupy almost half of the market and rely on Germany.

They are companies like Intel. Qualcomm. Texas Instruments. Micron or Nvidia, without which in Wolfsburg, Sindelfingen and Cologne no cars ran off the tapes and not a single machine would connect to the Internet.

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