Risks and opportunities from the macroeconomy, the sector, markets and sales
For this risk category, the likelihood of occurrence is classified as high (previous year: medium) and the potential extent of damage is classified as medium (previous year: medium).
The most significant risks from the regular GRC process and the QRP lie in restrictions on trade and increasingly protectionist tendencies resulting in a negative trend in markets and unit sales.
Macroeconomic risks and opportunities
We believe that risks to positive growth in global economic output will arise primarily if efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic are not successful in the long term, as well as from turbulence in the financial and commodity markets, increasingly protectionist tendencies and structural deficits, which pose a threat to the performance of individual advanced economies and emerging markets. In addition, there are increasing environmental challenges that affect individual countries and regions to varying degrees. The possible worldwide transition from an expansionary monetary policy to a more restrictive one also presents risks for the macroeconomic environment. High private- and public-sector debt in many places is clouding the outlook for growth and may likewise cause markets to respond negatively. Declines in growth in key countries and regions often have an immediate impact on the state of the global economy and therefore pose a central risk. There are also risks from the uncertain consequences of the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU.
The economic development of some emerging economies is being hampered primarily by dependence on energy and commodity prices and capital inflows, but also by socio-political tensions. Corruption, inadequate government structures and a lack of legal certainty can also pose risks.
Geopolitical tensions and conflicts, along with signs of fragmentation in the global economy, are a further major risk factor to the performance of individual countries and regions. In light of the existing, strong global interdependence, local developments could also have adverse effects on the world economy. Any escalation of the conflicts in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, or Africa, for example, could cause upheaval on the global energy and commodity markets and exacerbate migration trends. An aggravation of the situation in East Asia could also put a strain on the global economy. The same applies to violent conflicts, terrorist activities, cyber attacks and the spread of infectious diseases, which may quickly result in unexpected market reactions.
Overall, we anticipate a recovery in the global economy in 2021. However, due to the risk factors mentioned, as well as cyclical and structural aspects, a further negative trend in the global economy or a period of below-average growth rates is possible.
The macroeconomic environment may also give rise to opportunities for the Volkswagen Group if actual developments differ from expected developments in a positive way.
Sector-specific risks and market opportunities/potential
Western Europe, especially Germany, and China are our main sales markets. A drop in demand in these regions due to the economic climate would have a particularly strong impact on the Company’s earnings including financial services. We counter this risk with a clear, customer-oriented and innovative product and pricing policy.
Outside Western Europe and China, delivery volumes are spread widely across the key regions: Central and Eastern Europe, North America and South America. In addition, we either already have a strong presence in numerous existing and developing markets or are working systematically towards this goal. Particularly in smaller markets with growth potential, we are increasing our presence with the help of strategic partnerships in order to cater to local requirements.
The growth markets of Central and Eastern Europe, South America and Asia are particularly important to the Volkswagen Group. These markets harbor considerable potential; however, the underlying conditions in some countries in these regions make it difficult to increase unit sales figures there. Examples of these are customs regulations or minimum local content requirements for production. At the same time, wherever the economic and regulatory situation permits, there are opportunities above and beyond current projections. These arise from faster growth in the emerging markets where vehicle densities are currently still low.
Price pressure in established automotive markets for new and used vehicles as a result of high market saturation is a further risk for the Volkswagen Group as a supplier of volume and premium models. Competitive pressures are likely to remain high in the future. Individual manufacturers may respond by offering incentives in order to meet their sales targets, putting the entire sector under additional pressure.
There is a risk that excess capacity in global automotive production may lead to a rise in inventories and therefore an increase in tied-up capital. With a decline in demand for vehicles and genuine parts, automotive manufacturers may adjust their capacities or intensify measures to promote sales. This would lead to additional costs and greater price pressure.
The demand that built up in individual established markets in times of crisis could result in a marked recovery if the economic environment eases more quickly than expected.
In Europe, there is a risk that further municipalities and cities will impose a driving ban on vehicles with combustion engines in order to comply with emission limits. China imposed a so-called “new energy vehicle quota” in 2019, which means that battery-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles will have to account for a certain proportion of a manufacturer’s new passenger car fleet. To ensure compliance with emissions standards, we continuously tailor our range of vehicle models and engines to the conditions in the relevant markets. These requirements may lead to higher costs and consequently to price increases and declines in volumes.
Economic performance varied in individual regions in fiscal year 2020. The resulting risks for our trading and sales companies, such as in relation to efficient inventory management and a profitable dealer network, are substantial and are being responded to with appropriate measures on their part. However, financing business activities through bank loans remains difficult. Our financial services companies offer dealers financing on attractive terms with the aim of strengthening their business models and reducing operational risk. We have installed a comprehensive liquidity risk management system so that we can promptly counteract any liquidity bottlenecks at the dealership end that could hinder smooth business operations.
We continue to approve loans for vehicle financing on the basis of the same cautious principles applied in the past, for example by taking into account the regulatory requirements of section 25a(1) of the Kreditwesengesetz (KWG – German Banking Act).
Volkswagen may be exposed to increased competition in aftermarkets for regulatory reasons. This is due to the provisions of the block exemption regulations, which have applied to after-sales services since June 2010, and also to the amendments included in EU Regulation 566/2011 dated June 8, 2011 and EU Regulation 858/2018 applicable from September 1, 2020, regarding independent market participants’ access to technical information.
In Germany, legislation entered into force on December 2, 2020 to restrict or abolish design protection for repair parts through the introduction of a repair clause. In addition, the European Commission is evaluating the market with regard to existing design protection. A possible restriction or abolition of design protection for visible replacement parts could adversely affect the Volkswagen Group’s genuine parts business.
The automotive industry is facing a process of transformation with far-reaching changes. Electric drives, connected vehicles and autonomous driving are associated with both opportunities and risks for our sales. In particular, more rapidly evolving customer requirements, swift implementation of legislative initiatives and the market entry of new competitors from outside the industry will require changed products at a faster pace of innovation and adjustments to business models. There is uncertainty regarding the widespread use of electric vehicles and the availability of the necessary charging infrastructure.
There is also a risk of freight deliveries worldwide being shifted from trucks to other means of transport, and of demand for the Group’s commercial vehicles falling as a result.
Below, we outline the regions and markets with the greatest growth potential for the Volkswagen Group.
Demand for vehicles is expected to increase in the coming years due to the need for individual mobility. It is also expected that demand will shift from the coastal metropolises to the country’s interior. In order to leverage the considerable opportunities offered by this market – also with regard to e-mobility – and to defend our strong market position in China over the long term, we are continuously expanding our product range to include models that have been specially developed for this market. We are further extending our production capacity in this growing market.
The Volkswagen Group has consolidated its activities in this strategically important future market and has launched a model initiative with the new ŠKODA Kushaq tailored to the needs of customers.
In the USA, Volkswagen Group of America is steadfast in its pursuit to become a full-fledged volume supplier. The expansion of local production capacity – including production for electric vehicles in the future – will allow the Group to better serve the market in the North America region. We are also working intensively on offering additional products specifically tailored to the US market.
The growing number of automobile manufacturers with local production has resulted in a sharp increase in price pressure and competition. The Brazilian market plays a key role for the Volkswagen Group. To strengthen our competitive position here, we offer vehicles tailored specially for this market that are locally produced, such as the Gol and the Nivus.
The heavy reliance on oil and gas income, currency volatility and the resulting volatility of vehicle prices, the political crisis and the related sanctions imposed by the EU and the USA continue to negatively impact the development of demand. The market remains strategically important to the Volkswagen Group, which is why we have a strong focus on market cultivation there.
Political and economic uncertainty in the region weigh on the passenger car markets. In spite of this instability, the Middle East region offers short-term and long-term growth potential. We aim to leverage the potential for growth with a range of vehicles that has been specifically tailored to this market, without having our own production facilities there.
Global economic trends are likely to continue, such as digitalization and the increasing interest in emissions-reducing technologies associated with decarbonization. Growing global energy needs call for innovation in the industry and a growing willingness on the part of governments to invest in line with the global climate policy.
The situation for the marine market has deteriorated due to the global pandemic. There is a risk that investments will be postponed and there will be a distinct slowdown in project business. Some market segments have been disproportionately affected. These include the cruise industry, which has been hit by the collapse in demand for tourist travel, or the offshore market, which is suffering from the sustained reduction in oil prices.
In turbomachinery, there is the risk that planned projects and orders will be scaled back or postponed due to negative developments in sales markets or individual applications.
We address these risks by constantly monitoring the markets, focusing on less strongly affected market segments, working closely with all business partners such as customers and licensees, and introducing new and improved technologies.
We are working systematically to leverage market opportunities at a global level, for example by positioning ourselves as a solution provider for reduced-carbon drive and energy-generation technologies as well as for storage technology. Moreover, significant potential can be leveraged in the medium term by enhancing our after-sales business through the introduction of new digital products and the expansion of our service network. The requirements for occupational safety, which will continue to increase in the future, the availability of the plants that are already in operation, the increase in environmental compatibility, and efficient operation, together with the large number of engines and plants, will provide the basis for growth. Digital service solutions, for instance for remote surveillance of plants, offer growth potential despite the pandemic.
As part of the capital goods industry, the Power Engineering business is affected by fluctuations in the investment climate. Even minor changes in growth rates or growth forecasts, resulting from geopolitical uncertainties or volatile commodities and foreign exchange markets, for example, carry the risk of significant changes in demand or the cancellation of already existing orders.
The measures we use to counter the substantial economic and extraordinary risks include flexible production concepts and cost flexibility by means of temporary external personnel, working time accounts and short-time working (Kurzarbeit), and the necessary structural adjustments.
There is a risk that the Volkswagen Group could experience decreases in demand, possibly exacerbated by media reports or insufficient communication, for example as a result of the diesel issue. Other potential consequences include lower margins in the new and used car businesses and a temporary increase in funds tied up in working capital. The Volkswagen Group has recognized provisions arising from the diesel issue, in particular for the service measures, recalls and customer-related measures. Further substantial financial liabilities may emerge due to existing estimation risks particularly from technical solutions, repurchase obligations, customer-related measures and possible official or statutory requirements for diesel vehicles.
The Volkswagen Group’s multibrand strategy may weaken individual Group brands if there are overlaps in customer segments or the product portfolio. This effect may be reinforced by the Volkswagen Group’s common-parts strategy, as this strategy means that, in some cases, the differences in product substance between the brands are small. As a result, there could be a risk of internal cannibalization between the Group brands, higher marketing costs, or repositioning expenses. By sharpening the brand identities as part of our Best Brand Equity strategic module, we are working to minimize these risks.
The fleet customer business continues to be characterized by increasing concentration and internationalization, accompanied by the risk that the loss of individual fleet customers may result in relatively high volume losses. Viewed over an extended period, the fleet customer business is more stable than the business with retail customers. The Volkswagen Group is well positioned with its broad portfolio of products and drive systems, as well as its target-group-focused customer care, and counteracts a concentration of default risks at individual fleet customers or markets. The consistently high market share in Europe shows that fleet customers still have confidence in the Group.
Consumer demand is shaped not only by real factors such as disposable income, but also by psychological factors that cannot be planned for. A current example is that of the Covid-19 pandemic. Households’ worries about the future economic situation, for example, may lead to unexpected buyer reluctance. This is particularly the case in saturated automotive markets such as Western Europe, where demand could drop as a result of owners holding on to their existing vehicles for longer. We are countering the risk of buyer reluctance with our attractive range of models and our strict policy of customer orientation.
A combination of buyer reluctance in some markets as a result of the crisis, and increases in some vehicle taxes based on CO2 emissions – which have already been observed in many European countries – may shift demand towards smaller segments and engines. We counter the risk that such a shift will negatively impact the Volkswagen Group’s financial situation by constantly developing new, fuel-efficient vehicles and alternative drive technologies, based on our drivetrain and fuel strategy.
Automotive markets around the world are exposed to risks from government intervention such as tax increases, which curb private consumption, and from restrictions on trade and protectionist tendencies. Sales incentives may lead to shifts in the timing of demand.
Commercial vehicles are capital goods: even minor changes in growth rates or growth forecasts may significantly affect transport requirements and thus demand. The resulting risk of production fluctuations calls for a high degree of flexibility from the manufacturers. Although production volumes are significantly lower, the complexity of the trucks and buses range does in fact significantly exceed the already very high complexity of the passenger cars range. Key factors for commercial vehicle customers are total cost of ownership, vehicle reliability and the service provided. Furthermore, customers are increasingly interested in additional services such as freight optimization and fleet utilization, which we offer in the commercial vehicle segment through the digital brand RIO, for example.
Power Engineering’s two-stroke engines are produced exclusively by licensees, particularly in South Korea, China and Japan. On account of volatile demand in new ship construction, there is excess capacity in the market for marine engines, which poses a risk of declining license revenues. Due to changes in the competitive environment, especially in China, there is also the risk of losing market share.
In addition to the risks outlined in the individual risk categories, there are other factors that cannot be predicted and whose repercussions are therefore difficult to control. Should these transpire, they could have an adverse effect on the further development of the Volkswagen Group. In particular, such occurrences include natural disasters, pandemics – such as the current spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus –, violent conflicts and terrorist attacks.
There is a risk that the Covid-19 pandemic could intensify, due to reasons such as changes in the virus. All areas of the Volkswagen Group are affected by the pandemic, especially sales due to a fall in customer demand, production and supply chains. There are risks arising in particular from a sustained fall in demand and an increasing intensity of competition. These risks could be mitigated by government economic programs. Furthermore, we envisage challenges, especially in production with regard to stable supply chains and protecting the health of our staff. We have put in place increased hygiene and protective measures to ensure plants can operate.