Guy Chazan:

Peter Altmaier, her chief of staff, spelt out the dangers at a panel debate in Berlin in November. Would Germany still lead the automobile industry when the world shifts to self-driving, electric cars and software overtakes engines as a vehicle’s most important component? “In the future, 50-60 per cent of the value of a car will consist of digital devices and tools, and 20 per cent of batteries,” he said. “So if we’re not careful, we’ll only be responsible for the windows, seats and wheels.”

That fear is spreading across the broader auto industry, but it is felt acutely in Germany where the sector is one of the largest employers. Suppliers are affected as much as the vehicle manufacturers. “If you look at all the companies that make car parts — the transmission, gearboxes, clutches, pistons — they’re all in a difficult spot right now,” says one Frankfurt-based banker. “People don’t want to invest in them because they are not sure there will be any demand for these things in future.”