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An interview with Patrick FrUth - The Future After Corona – "Digital" Makes all the Difference

No event in recent decades has had such a profound effect on the world and the car industry as the coronavirus pandemic. It is forcing us to keep our distance while still retaining a closeness to the market. So what steps do we have to take in the mobility sector going forward? In this interview, Patrick Fruth, the CEO of the TÜV SÜD Mobility Division tells us more.

Interview with Patrick Fruth, CEO Division Mobility at TÜV SÜD

MR FRUTH, YOU HAVE BEEN A CEO IN THE MOBILITY SECTOR FOR A LONG TIME NOW. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY MAKES THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS DIFFERENT TO OTHER CRISES THAT CAME BEFORE IT?

P. Fruth: There has quite simply never been another crisis in recent decades that has had such a major overall economic impact on our industry, and ultimately on the entire world, as the coronavirus pandemic. We still can’t be sure what the effects of the crisis will be, but I am quite certain that we cannot expect a rapid upturn in the automobile sector like we did after the bank crisis of 2009. And it isn’t just the economic impact, because the industry is also in a state of fundamental technical transformation, with emerging fields like electromobility, hydrogen, autonomous driving, digitalisation and new sales models, to name just a few changes that are taking place. But with all this, the big challenge is that our substance, our knowledge and our income are drawn from today's ecosystem.

What are the most important factors for you when it comes to overcoming this crisis?

P. Fruth: A motivated team coupled with a sense of entrepreneurship, a modern workplace culture, and a sound financial basis to enable forward-looking investment. One effect of the coronavirus crisis is that it has given a considerable boost to the process of digitalisation in all areas. The benefits of this will eventually make themselves felt further down the line in the form of permanently increased efficiency and optimised processes. And it is in this light that we also view our digitalised services, which we sum up as a way of simplifying processes for us, our partners and their customers.

The boost in the process of digitalisation is a positive effect of the Covid-19 crisis. So what would you say are the possible challenges presented by digitalisation at TÜV SÜD?

P. Fruth: Above all, I see opportunities that we must take. People are often afraid of change, but I see it as something positive. Consequently, the transfer of our existing technology into the digital world will be both exciting and challenging. We are a service-oriented organisation which lives from its “person-to-person” contacts and in turn from trust. We have to ensure that our employees are not left behind and that we strengthen their skills to cope with the digital challenges.

A crisis demands speed and adaptability from a company. How have you achieved this in your organisation?

P. Fruth: Speed, particularly when it comes to decision making, coupled with the required flexibility – these are the factors that have always been decisive to our success. Short decision-making paths have enabled us to adapt rapidly to constantly changing conditions. Our highly motivated team has skilfully mastered the current crisis. The health of our customers, partners and employees are our utmost priority. This is why we immediately implemented the necessary protective measures across our locations and in our mobile service. Our vehicle testing procedures are contactless. Social distancing requirements, hygiene rules, information and communication have all been quickly put in place across the board for our employees. We have also quickly developed a digital service package at special corona crisis conditions for the automobile retail and service sector that is currently severely affected by closures.

What we are now facing is the ‘new normal’. Should we see this as an opportunity or as an ongoing risk?

P. Fruth: The way I see it, we are still very far from normality. One look at the drop in car sales and customer flow will tell you that it will need some time yet before we can return to a situation that we recognise as normal.

How do you view the theme of internationalisation right now? Is there going to be an increased trend against globalisation?

P. Fruth: It is clear from the current economic consequences of the crisis just how important internationalisation and globalisation are for an exporting nation such as ours and for the automotive sector in particular. And it is no different for other exporting nations. Our economy has suffered more than just a dent, and it is going to take a while before any sustainable upturn will make itself felt. But despite all the current tensions and economic differences, the processes of internationalisation and globalisation will prove to be unstoppable in the long term. Digitalisation alone is bringing us all closer together, despite all the physical distances involved, and turning the world into one, global village. And that is a good thing.

How has the Covid-19 crisis been for you personally?

P. Fruth: It has been an unforeseen challenge beginning the year positively only to be confronted by a complete worldwide process of crisis management and fully new questions that need to be answered. Is working from home possible for some employee groups? Short-time work, tailoring offers, maintaining an overview of the new rules… . But looking back, I have to say that all of this has resulted in renewed motivation and trust. I would like to thank our customers and partners as well as my team and all the employees. What this situation has also shown me is that you really don’t have to be in the same room to be able to hold a meeting. Video conferences are an effective substitute for many on-site appointments, but I am also looking forward to the time when the amount of personal contact is starting to increase again.

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