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A VW ID.3 EV is seen in this file photography. Picture: SUPPLIED
A VW ID.3 EV is seen in this file photography. Picture: SUPPLIED

Shanghai — China’s SAIC Motor aims to cut thousands of jobs this year at its joint ventures with General Motors and Volkswagen and at an electric-car unit, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

The state-owned carmaker hopes to cut 30% of employees at SAIC-GM, 10% at SAIC Volkswagen and more than half at its Rising Auto EV subsidiary, the people said.

Large-scale workforce reductions are rare at state-owned Chinese firms and come amid a cut-throat car price war as the nation’s economy falters. The cutbacks also reflect the explosion of EVs in China, a sector in which SAIC and its foreign partners have rapidly lost market share to Tesla and privately owned Chinese carmakers led by BYD.

The staff reductions won’t happen all at once in mass layoffs but are targeted for 2024, the sources said. A large portion will come through implementing stricter performance standards and offering payouts to lower-rated employees who resign, they said.

A SAIC spokesperson said “speculation” about staff downsizing is “not true” and that the company would not set targets for worker dismissals. SAIC did not respond to questions about efforts to get low-performers to resign or other staff-reduction strategies.

The company added that it had recruited 2,000 employees in the first two months of 2024 who will focus on software and new-energy vehicles.

A GM spokesperson in China said it would be “inaccurate” to say SAIC-GM is “reducing its workforce by 30%” but declined to elaborate. A VW China Group spokesperson said it did not plan “layoffs” and that it was “incorrect” to say SAIC-VW plans to cut 10% of its workforce.

Sales fell

The VW spokesperson declined to comment on whether the company had changed its employee performance reviews but called them a “long-term mechanism” and said SAIC-VW provides counselling and resources aiming to ensure “every employee can be qualified for their job requirements”.

SAIC has been China’s biggest carmaker for nearly two decades but its sales fell 16% during the first two months of 2024 from a year earlier, according to an SAIC filing. It employed 207,000 people at its parent company and major subsidiaries at end-2023, according to SAIC’s annual report.

One of the sources said most of the reductions at SAIC-VW would come through payouts offered to resigning low performers.

SAIC rates workers on a scale from A to D. In the past, the company has rarely handed out C or D ratings, the two sources said. For 2023 however, about 10% of SAIC-VW employees received the lower ratings, one of the people said.

D-rated employees are being offered payouts to quit, and C-rated workers are being put in “uncomfortable positions” intended to encourage resignations, the source said.

The 10% target for job cuts at SAIC-VW applies to “white-collar professionals” rather than factory workers, the person said.

Such performance-based payouts are also being used at SAIC-GM, the person said. Reuters could not determine how widely the strategy is being employed at the GM joint venture, what other methods staff-reduction methods it might use, or whether factory workers are included in its 30% target for job cuts.

Rising Auto, one of two SAIC EV units, is also offering payouts to low-rated employees but will also dismiss some workers and not renew the contracts of others, one of the sources said.

The job cuts are a symptom of much larger problems for state-owned carmakers and their foreign partners in the world’s biggest car market.

Surged ahead

SAIC Volkswagen was set up in 1985 and makes the ID.3 electric car and Audi-branded vehicles, among other models. SAIC-GM, established in 1997, makes Chevrolets, Buicks and Cadillacs.

But in recent years, SAIC and its foreign partners have seen steep drops in sales as BYD and Tesla have surged far ahead in the race to capture EV market share.

EV sales have risen sharply and now account for 23% of China’s car sales, with BYD and Tesla capturing by far the biggest shares of the electric sector.

China’s government granted Tesla a rare exception to its long-standing practice of making foreign carmakers form joint ventures with state-owned enterprises. Tesla set up a wholly owned entity in 2018 to manufacture vehicles at its Shanghai factory — its biggest globally by output — as part of a government strategy to supercharge the development of China’s EV supply chains and challenge domestic carmakers to compete.

BYD answered the call. Its EV sales in China have rocketed from about 130,000 in 2020 to more than 1.5-million last year and its global EV sales surpassed Tesla late last year. Last week, BYD chair Wang Chuanfu predicted foreign brands would cause their China market share to plummet from 40% to 10% in the next three to five years.

As the industry’s electrification accelerates, the Chinese government has urged state-owned entities to be more efficient and less dependent on foreign partners. But SAIC still relies on its VW and GM partnerships for a large proportion of its sales and profits.


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