Dr. Markus Ewig, Managing Director of Rhenus Automotive SE

Dr. Ewig: Batteries need a second Life.

| Axel Gross / VDE

Rhenus Automotive on the potential benefits and challenges of electric car batteries

Whether for transport, warehousing or second life recycling, Dr. Marcus Ewig, Managing Director of Rhenus Automotive SE, knows how crucial it is to align the many processes in the battery life cycle. In an interview with Dr. Ralf Petri, Head of the Mobility Division at VDE, Ewig explains what he learned from his foray into the fashion industry, why batteries should be recycled only at the end of the process chain, and why he wants to help standardize traction batteries in his role as Vice President of the DKE Steering Committee. 

VDE: Dr. Ewig, you are the Managing Director of Rhenus Automotive SE, part of the international Rhenus Group with 970 locations. How many offices do you have worldwide?  

Ewig: “I’m afraid I’m going to have to correct you right at the start of the interview (laughs). The Rhenus Group already had 1,130 locations at the start of 2023 since the Group has grown organically and through acquisitions in the last few years. As a global player in the logistics sector, we have to cover virtually every country in the world.  

Today, though, I’m speaking on behalf of Rhenus Automotive, where we currently have 65 active operational locations worldwide and around 30 offices, although our offices and operational locations overlap to some extent. We try to deploy our employees as locally and close to home as possible. So, for example, if we are responding to IT-related issues, then we work with international teams based in Belgium, Spain, in the Saarland or in the US on a project basis. It’s a very successful approach.” 

VDE: Taking a look at your career, a couple of things stand out. You held managerial positions at Porsche – on the race track as it were – and then you switched to the catwalk as the CEO of fashion label Peter Kaiser. You’ve been with Rhenus Automotive since 2017. How did that happen?

Dr. Ralf Petri
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Dr. Markus Ewig, Managing Director of Rhenus Automotive SE

Dr. Ewig: As electrification advances, the world needs norms and standards, and developing them falls within the DKE’s area of responsibility. 

| Axel Gross / VDE

Ewig: “I’ve always focused on processes in my professional career. At the Scheer Group, I managed projects in the field of logistics for Lufthansa and Deutsche Bahn. After that, I went to Porsche, where I helped to set up the business in Leipzig. During the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, I was thinking about how I could reposition myself, and I felt it was time to do something different after so many years in the automotive industry. That’s how I got into the fashion industry. People often wonder how the two areas fit together. But it worked out quite well, since I was able to use my process-related experience and get to know a new industry. It was really exciting and dynamic. However, there was also a lack of structure sometimes, which I hadn’t expected. After a few years, I started to miss the innovative capacity and structure of the automotive sector.  

In 2016, I was asked if I would consider joining Rhenus Automotive. At the time, the company had just acquired Ferrostaal Automotive, so I was able to use my experience in processes and press ahead with the integration together with my colleagues. Today, just under 10,000 employees work for Rhenus Automotive at 65 locations. We are a first-tier supplier in axle and complete vehicle assembly and are one of the key logistics providers for all vehicle manufacturers worldwide. So my path logically led me here, and it’s the process-related consistency, the innovative strength, and the strong commitment of the automotive sector to achieve this current transformation together with the OEMs that I find really motivating.” 

VDE: OK, I would usually ask this question at the end, but it fits in well here. What tips do you have to offer young people? You have experienced a lot of changes. What was good, what was bad and what path would you suggest?  

Ewig: “You should always think about what story you want to tell at the end of your career. You might say that you were the corporate type who started out as a consultant and ended up as the head of department. That’s one path. Another way might be to pick up an enormous amount of knowledge as you progress along your professional path, and by that I mean getting to know cultures, people and industries and satisfying your curiosity. 

We are currently experiencing incredible transformation in all areas. This is partly being driven by necessity, such as the focus on CO2 neutrality and other sustainable issues. But the new technologies changing entire sectors are another driving factor. This complex situation is a good place to start exploring and to focus a little on your own interests. You shouldn’t wait for someone to tell you which path to follow, but take the approach of trial and error. We have some very good young people in the company who are doing exactly that and who go home at the end of the day with a great sense of satisfaction.” 

We are seeing remanufacturing or refurbishment of batteries for e-cars  

VDE: Let’s turn our attention from softer issues to more technical ones. Batteries play a significant role in your company, since you offer battery life cycle management for manufacturers of electric vehicles. What does “battery life cycle management” actually mean?  

Ewig: “Our strategic roadmap included batteries for the first time in 2019. We were asked if we wanted to get involved in the battery process in terms of storage, logistics and warehousing. It was clear that the issue of batteries for electric cars would become a separate business area in the next few decades. Within the Rhenus Group, we had plenty of subsidiaries who were already looking at manufacturing and transporting batteries from a variety of angles at the time. This includes companies that develop and build certified containers for emergency batteries, or those that have been dealing with the issue of battery disposal for some time.   

Ultimately, that led us to consider the various cycles of a battery so that we could map the entire process. We define the first life as the phase when we come into contact with the battery for the first time, when we make battery packs out of individual cells together with OEMs and transport them to the plants where electric vehicles are manufactured. In the Group, we also understand the importance of offering solutions further downstream in the charging infrastructure field. For example, we ran a pilot project together with Remondis for larger power chargers for certain cities.  

At some point, the battery degrades to the point where it can no longer be used in a vehicle and needs a second life. There’s lots of talk about battery recycling these days, but for us that’s only one component of the second life cycle. We are taking it much further and looking at remanufacturing and refurbishing batteries. Our goal is that batteries will be sent for recycling only at the end of the process chain.” 

Standardization of batteries for e-cars is a key issue  

VDE: What if a second life is no longer possible and recycling really is the only option? You have some in-house expertise on this – can traction batteries be recycled easily? When I think about American OEMS, their battery cells are stuck together with gap filler and are difficult to break apart. There’s also the question of how valuable materials are recovered. Does it work to the extent that it should? 

Ewig: “Perhaps I should clear up a small myth, since we have to look at the whole process here as well. Let me quickly explain that we are upstream of the pure recycling process. We consider the preliminary treatment, meaning fully discharging the battery, to be the first and most important step. Batteries can be processed safely only once they are fully discharged. Then comes the next step, where we extract all the valuable materials from the battery, dismantle them and clearly separate the materials. Purely metallic materials go into an established metal recycling process, and the recycling industry also has existing processes for cables or other items.    

Only then do we have the battery cell, either glued together or as a pure cell. We send this to be shredded, which produces a black mass. I have to point out again that this is currently where the recycling process stops for us in the Rhenus Group. We send the black mass to recycling plants that specialize in this field. They use metallurgic procedures, wet or dry recycling, in which the black mass is chemically processed. The aim is to access those raw materials that were used in the battery and to feed them into the cell manufacturing process.” 

VDE: We’ve noticed that policymakers – especially at a European level – are placing an increasing number of requirements on batteries such as the European Battery Passport. What would you like to see in terms of policies and how are you dealing with that? 

Ewig: “From the perspective of both consumers and companies, things are moving in the same direction. Standardizing batteries would be key for consumers. It would mean that as a customer, I could choose which battery to use in my car. Standardization would also be beneficial for companies since it has a positive impact on the modular design of vehicles, on recyclability in the recycling process and on its automation. If we look briefly at logistics, there are standardized containers such as KLT and GLT boxes and European pallets that can be managed using standardized processes.  

However, if you have a warehouse for traction batteries, then you have a different battery with different dimensions for each derivative from each manufacturer. So it’s not even possible to build standardized containers for emergency batteries. It’s therefore clear that standardization is both in great demand and a necessary step. In this sense, the European Battery Passport is at least a standardization that simplifies the recycling process, since it formally tells me what I’m dealing with.” 

Batteries for e-cars carry a danger in themselves and must be handled carefully 

VDE: This brings me to my next question. You became Vice President of the Steering Committee at the DKE, Germany’s organization for electrotechnical standardization. What are you going to focus on?

Ewig: “If I may quickly put my VDE hat on, we are currently in an excellent position. We’ve been given an entire business area that we previously had no contact points with, apart from standardization issues in the field of vehicle control systems. Everything is being electrified as part of the transformation process. I believe that it is the DKE’s area of responsibility to support the development of norms and standards for processes that we haven’t looked at yet, and I would like to be involved in that.

Let’s go back to batteries, which are a great example. On the one hand, we need standards that have to be implemented in vehicles; it’s not just about having a standardized plug for my wall box. If we think again about an emergency such as an accident or breakdown, we have to consider process partners such as roadside assistance services or fire departments, who need to know how to handle batteries. In addition, batteries should be able to transmit status information via standardized protocols as they are being used. We mustn’t forget that the battery in itself poses a risk: it’s a solid body that is charged, an energy store that has be handled carefully. So we need to have information about its condition. 

These are just two aspects for the DKE, and there are many others that we have to resolve at the EU or international level. The DKE has its own network for this purpose, which enables us to work purposefully and set universal standards.” 

VDE: My next question brings us back to what we were talking about at the start of the interview, about careers and young professionals. What are your strategies for attracting new talent at Rhenus Automotive? We know that the market is difficult, we’re experiencing it as well. A lot of things have changed in the last few years. How are you dealing with this? 

Ewig: “We have a large number of operational employees and we try to gain their loyalty early on. We have an extensive apprentice program, for example, and we recruit many of our junior colleagues at schools. Our aim is to integrate them into the personnel development process and to provide them with ongoing support. We understand that we have to give young people much more attention. They need their freedom, but we also need to give them a trajectory for their development.    

The same applies to university graduates. Our trainee program runs for two years with projects and training blocks. During this time, it’s essential that we recognize what the employees’ strengths are and identify opportunities at an early stage. After all, many young people are plagued by feelings of uncertainty when they don’t know what the next steps are. Employees who so wish are offered a high degree of freedom and the opportunity to take on lots of responsibility early on. We accompany and support them throughout this process. 

By the way, in addition to recruiting, it’s really important for us to retain employees and bring them into a corridor of satisfaction. If we succeed in that, they don’t wonder whether the grass is greener on the other side than at Rhenus Automotive.” 

VDE Mobility Interviews

Alexander Lutz (l.) in interview with Dr. Ralf Petri (r.)

Alexander Lutz (l.) in interview with Dr. Ralf Petri (r.)


The mobility industry is in a state of upheaval: New players and new concepts are entering the market, and digitization is also providing new impetus. Dr. Ralf Petri, Head of the Mobility Division at the VDE, discusses opportunities and challenges for the industry with well-known representatives from the mobility sector.

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