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China’s largest carmaker to cut thousands of jobs at its joint ventures with GM and Volkswagen

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Amid an intense price war and lost market share to BYD and Tesla, China’s state-owned automaker SAIC Motor is reportedly making drastic job cuts this year at its joint ventures with General Motors and Volkswagen and at its EV unit – with mass layoffs a rare move for a China-owned company.

The total number accounts for 30% of employees at SAIC-GM, 10% at SAIC Volkswagen, and more than 50% at its Rising Auto EV subsidiary, two unnamed sources told Reuters.

Mass layoffs by Chinese-owned firms are extremely rare, but the fierce price war spearheaded by BYD has potentially forced SAIC’s hand. In recent year, the legacy carmaker and its foreign partners have lost market share to Tesla and privately owned companies such as BYD. In China, there are more than 94 brands offering more than 300 EV models, according to Counterpoint Research, so there is no shortage of competition.

For nearly two decades, SAIC, which employs more than 200,000 people, has been a powerhouse in China, but its sales fell by 16% in the first two months of this year from a year earlier, according to an SAIC filing.

According to the report, the layoffs won’t all happen at once but are aimed for this year. Sources told Reuters that the bulk of the firings will happen via “implementing stricter performance standards and offering payouts to lower-rated employees who resign.”  

SAIC refutes the claim, however, telling Reuters that the company doesn’t plan to downsize, and a spokesperson had no comment regarding efforts by the company to force low performers to resign or other strategies to reduce staff. In fact, SAIC said that it had recruited 2,000 employees earlier this year.

A VW spokesperson, however, declined to comment on the layoffs but added that employee performance reviews were a “long-term mechanism” to ensure “every employee can be qualified for their job requirements.”

According to the report, SAIC has a pressure-cooker-style system for rating employees from A to D, with employees rated D offered payouts to quit, while C-rated employees are put into “uncomfortable positions” forcing them to quit, the sources said. Last year, about 10% of SAIC-VW employees, for example, received a C or D rating. Also, these ratings apply to “white-collar professionals,” not factory workers, the source said. At this point, it’s unclear whether or not factory workers are included in the planned layoffs.

For its part, SAIC Volkswagen makes the ID.3 EV and Audi-branded vehicles, among other models. SAIC-GM makes Chevrolets, Buicks, and Cadillacs.

In China, EV sales account for 23% of total car sales, with that number on the rise. Of course, China granted Tesla a special exception from its longstanding requirement of making foreign automakers form joint ventures with Chinese-owned firms. Tesla set up its wholly own entity in China in 2018 in Shanghai, where it produces its biggest global output.

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