Computing, consumer and communications companies are the three C application sectors that have driven the electronics industry in recent times. But as globalization — and free trade — have taken hold and we have moved from national to regional champions in these areas and then on to global winners, Europe has lost many of its equipment companies serving these sectors.
In computers ICL, Siemens-Nixdorf, Olivetti are no more and Europe, like the rest of the world, buys from Apple, Dell and Lenovo. In consumer electronics brands like Bush, Philips, Grundig have either pulled out of markets or are not what they were. And finally in telecoms we have witnessed the fall of one-time mobile phone handset market leader Nokia as well as changing fortunes at Ericsson and the disappearance of Alcatel albeit into a revamped Nokia equipment company.
Electronica 2016: Back to busy.
So component and technology companies no longer need to come to Electronica to pitch to these companies and that might seem like the essence of a tragic story of post-industrial decline.
What Europe has attained — indeed what Germany has attained, setting aside some software shenanigans perpetrated by Volkswagen — is a global leadership in the automotive sector. This is particularly true at the high end where automotive electronics is being adopted fastest by the likes of Audi, BMW and Daimler. And through the still healthy 'Mittelstand' that makes up a majority of employment in Germany Europe retains a healthy industrial electronics sector. The Mittelstand is the hypothetical part of Germany inhabited by small- and medium-sized businesses. Companies there tend to be family-owned, science- or technology-based, and run on traditional, debt-free lines. And many of these small companies are nimble power houses in industrial electronics, precision instrumentation and factory automation.
Next: Electronica stripped back