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'Bavaria's business future at risk' as village votes on BMW battery factory

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'Bavaria's business future at risk' as village votes on BMW battery factory
Production begins on a fully electric BMW i5. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

The residents of a village in Lower Bavaria have the power to influence the future of BMW's electric car production in a referendum that pits fears over land use and traffic against the prospect of more jobs and greater prosperity.

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BMW is eager to ramp up the production of electric cars in its Bavarian factories. The carmaker plans to manufacture batteries for these cars in a new central assembly plant located 40 kilometres north of BMW's largest European factory in Dingolfing.

But a referendum this month in Straßkirchen, population 3,300, could thwart these plans. For BMW in Bavaria, the outcome of the vote could determine the future of electrification, says board member Ilka Horstmeier.

The Citizens' Initiative for a Livable Gäuboden aims to prevent the establishment of the battery factory and has triggered the referendum.

The group fears that the rural area will turn into an industrial zone and a traffic hub. According to submitted planning documents, up to 650 trucks could drive to and from the BMW assembly plant daily, in addition to about 3,000 cars and several dozen factory buses.

Although BMW offers secure, well-paid jobs with good working conditions, this could pose an existential threat to many other businesses in the region during times of skilled labour shortages, the group believes. It is also concerned that over 100 hectares of prime farmland could be permanently destroyed.

READ ALSO: Germany needs 'reality check' to meet electric car targets

The local councils of Straßkirchen and Irlbach, where the plant is supposed to be built, had unanimously supported the planned development, which is expected to generate 3,200 new jobs and apprenticeship positions, as well as substantial tax revenues.

BMW intends to assemble around 600,000 high-voltage batteries annually at the site, which would then be integrated into electric cars in Dingolfing, Regensburg, and Munich. The location is close to the A3 and A92 highways. The large and heavy batteries could also be transported directly to the car factories using electric trucks, eliminating the need for additional storage. BMW is also building battery factories at its car plants in Hungary, the United States, Mexico, and China.

In Bavaria, BMW currently employs around 40,000 people.

"Many companies will closely observe whether people still want investments in sustainable technologies and future-oriented jobs in Bavaria. This means that the citizens of Straßkirchen are also deciding on the attractiveness of Bavaria as a business location," says Horstmeier.

"If future technologies and jobs start moving away, they won't return anytime soon, and a downward spiral will begin," she warns. 

A second citizens' initiative in favour of the development is fighting For a Modern Homeland with a Future and warns of the departure of young people. 'Yes to BMW' posters can be seen in front yards and on balconies.

Straßkirchen mayor Christian Hirtreiter says: "Every euro is urgently needed here!"

A company in the neighbouring Deggendorf has just laid off 400 employees, another business with 170 positions is moving to Poland, and the paper mill in Plattling with 400 employees is closing. BMW means jobs and prosperity not only for the communities but for the entire region. "Local businesses also benefit from it."

READ ALSO: Germany to slash subsidies for electric cars

Construction companies, bakers, suppliers - around 1,200 businesses in Lower Bavaria work partially or entirely for BMW. Around 7,500 BMW employees live in the region around Straßkirchen and Irlbach, commuting to Dingolfing or beyond. The company promises that over 1,500 of them could work in the new assembly plant.

Nearby jobs and training opportunities would benefit families, grandparents, and the village, said Irlbach's deputy mayor Hermann Radlbeck. The municipality lacks sufficient funds for services including daycare, broadband expansion and road maintenance, he says. "That's why we need these business tax revenues".

Now it's up to the villagers to decide. In the coming days, some 2,700 eligible voters will receive their postal voting documents.

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"We expect high voter turnout because this issue concerns everyone," says Straßkirchen mayor Christian Hirtreiter.

The count will take place on the evening of September 24th.

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