Just 15 miles from the French border, the German city of Homburg is no stranger to conflict, from the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th century to World War II, when residents sheltered from bombing raids in the sandstone caves deep beneath the local castle. These days, the city of 43,000 is on the front lines of a different kind of battle: one for the future of Germany’s economic might, specifically the automotive industry.
Like many parts of Germany, Homburg depends on auto manufacturing, with about half the workforce—8,000 people—employed at three big parts factories. That has helped fill local parking lots with Mercedes and BMWs, but the affluence is increasingly under threat. With electric cars likely to displace Germany’s autobahn cruisers, the expertise accumulated in scores of places like Homburg could soon be obsolete.