Automated production processes will not render humans superfluous. New jobs will be created in the field of premium services. In order to attract and hold on to top-class employees, the BMW Group is adapting to different lifestyle and working models.
- Adriano Sack
One question remains a source of concern to both sociologists and economists, and to a lesser extent politicians, since it is difficult to reconcile strategic foresight with the ballot box: will there still be jobs in future? The pace of technological development is breathtaking. Video clips of robots jumping over obstacles like big cats astonish us for two reasons: they show not only how far engineering has come, but also how far it has to go before achieving the elegance of a leopard, or even a human. For robots still rattle and whirr, and still look awkward and vulnerable. But let us not be under any illusion: they are learning faster than we might like. The same goes for the field of artificial intelligence, where developments are moving at an even faster pace. For example, computers have long been able to beat humans at chess. People looking for love online can now flirt with internet chatbots. And a properly organised medical program can make diagnoses by accessing a global database that stores several terabytes more knowledge than any doctor. The same goes for lawyers, whose work depends to a large extent on comparative analysis of reference cases. The more nostalgic among us still hold onto the hope that empathy and creativity are not programmable. But of course there are already scientists in Silicon Valley and Shenzhen working flat out to prove us wrong. For there is really no great mystery to these skills. Netflix develops, writes and casts its own TV series (House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black) not through intuition, but by evaluating data provided by subscribers and people who are to become subscribers.
Even robots have to be programmed and supervised
It is impossible to know what effect this development will have on politics, business and humanity. It is already clear, however, that fewer and fewer people will be required – or allowed – to carry out mechanical, easily reproducible jobs. But even robots have to be programmed, serviced and supervised. And premium services in particular will never be fully automated. The new sharing concepts and other services will require staff for a different range of tasks. Instead of standing at a workbench, they will be needed for pick-ups, maintenance, cleaning and customer support. The need for people to express wishes or ask questions will prove astonishingly resistant. In fact the human touch will have to decide in future whether a service or product can be ranked as luxury class.
In future, the human touch will decide whether a service or product should be considered premium class.
In other income classes we are already witnessing a battle for top employees, a competition for skilled labour that has become increasingly globalised and shows no sign of letting up. The BMW Group’s competitors are not just local industry colleagues in Stuttgart and Sindelfingen. They also include internet giants and hungry start-ups. These have come surging into the car and mobility business, wooing potential employees with profit-sharing schemes, company shares, flexible hours, more casual work modes, and faster, leaner structures. With its 100-year history and an outstanding reputation for its products, the BMW Group remains a highly attractive employer, topping up the pay of its workforce with performance-related bonuses. This has worked well for many years. But there are other industry stakeholders who believe the BMW Group ought to become more flexible and needs a company structure to reflect the changing labour market. The proud tradition that once regarded a change of jobs with suspicion has largely been eradicated. Instead, there is a certain satisfaction in the knowledge that even someone poached by Google will occasionally come back.
A multiplicity of opinions and perspectives
One thing seems to be of vital importance: major steps are required when it comes to internationalising the company culture. The “engineered in Germany” label and a little blue-and-white pride in the company’s Bavarian headquarters may indeed be helpful to the image of the BMW brand. But according to in-house analysis, much still needs to be done in terms of the company’s dealings with customers and markets around the world. And there have been some interesting approaches. To prepare them for their jobs in other markets, for example, senior managers have been attending “Ready for the Future” seminars in India. Here they lend a supportive ear to business start-ups, or help kiosk owners to develop a business plan, for example. Of course, this is a world away from the participants’ current and future roles. Or then again, perhaps not. It raises awareness of the cultural characteristics of each country and offers a radical shift in perspective, described by participants as being extremely enriching. One objective for the years ahead is for the BMW Group to become its own migration expert as the company takes on more foreigners, more women and greater cultural diversity. This has nothing to do with quotas, it is about the multiplicity of opinions and perspectives.
For one thing is clear: the company will only get the best employees if it comes to know and accept new lifestyles. Put another way, what is now required is a little of the Google campus feeling.
Leading the way in the new world of mobility
Even if the car industry – perhaps it would be better to call it the mobility industry – is set to undergo strategic realignment in the years ahead, the BMW Group is in no doubt as to where the company wants to be: leading the way and defining the terms premium and luxury, helping the most discerning customers find the special quality they are looking for. But when using a vehicle no longer means owning one, other target groups will be able to afford other cars. The concept of “using not owning” is actually more familiar than might at first appear. A company car belongs to the company, not the employee: it is merely made available for a fixed period. Leasing basically functions on the same basis: a car is loaned in a way that makes it feel like one that you own. Once car sharing and peer-to-peer sharing begin to take significant market share alongside traditional rental cars, we will look with new eyes at questions about the true cost of being mobile and who can afford what class of mobility. A series of factors will make motoring more expensive: energy prices, safety regulations, traffic legislation to reduce emissions and noise pollution, inner-city parking – and above all the lack of space in the world’s megacities.
But other factors will make motoring cheaper: a car is currently unused on average for around 95% of its life; increased use would be more economical. At certain times of day, electricity will be cheap or free. When cars can drive themselves, it is probable that mobility costs will be offset by advertising transmitted directly to the car. One conceivable concept is a model where customers pay significantly less for their BMW but agree to make a predetermined annual turnover through peer-to-peer sharing.
Despite all this, the right to premium mobility will continue, and should remain recognised as such. The worldwide trend towards urbanisation – and the anonymity that goes with it – will increase the need for individualisation. Of course, whether or not I need to own a car for that is another question. The BMW Group naturally anticipates that a great number of people will want a car of their own in future. And that is not simply wishful thinking: 86% of DriveNow users (average age 32) say they want to own a car one day. However, if a significant volume of people no longer purchase cars but mobility, then as individuals they will be able to choose their car model to match their situation, mood or mobility requirement. The price of mobility is then dependent on the vehicle selected and on demand, with cheaper rates at weekends or during the summer holidays than during the week or at night.
Consequently, premium will no longer mean using your car very sporadically seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Instead you will have at your disposal the car that precisely matches your requirements exactly when you need it: cleaned, serviced, refuelled and, thanks to digital personalisation, already pre-programmed with your music playlists, preferred restaurants and travel routes. You won’t even notice the absence of a nodding dog on the parcel shelf and mats still muddy after last weekend’s walk.