What about France’s automobile future?
The world of car manufacturing is changing quickly: energy transition and dislocation threaten many West-European countries’ car industry. In an interview with the newspaper le Figaro, two French key players, talk about the future.
Bruno Le Maire is the French Economy Minister, and Carlos Tavares is the freshly appointed CEO of Stellantis, the car industry giant created by the fusion of PSA and FCA.
There was a lot of commotion lately about the PSA engine factory’s fate in Douvrin (France). Stellantis announced at the end of February that it would move the production of the EP gasoline engine to Hungary.
To compensate, there will be a battery factory instead, called ACC, in collaboration with Total-Saft and maybe also with competitor Renault. But the unions remained worried: “The dislocation of the EP engine means the death of Douvrin by 2025,” they claimed. “The arrival of the battery factory will never absorb all the jobs lost in the engine factory.”
Just now, Mr. Tavares has announced that the last ICE engine the Stellantis group has developed, the EB 3, will be manufactured in Douvrin. “This is excellent news for the workers,” Mr. Le Maire has immediately responded.
Laurent Dubois, secretary of CFTC (the most important union on site), was extremely pleased with the news. “This will allow us to continue producing ICE for a certain number of years; the transition to electric will be far less brutal.”
“In fact, the transition toward electrification represents an enormous relocation of activities in France,” added Carlos Tavares, ” because electromotors, gearboxes, and batteries represent about 35% of an electric vehicle’s worth, and we won’t import them anymore from Asia.”
A great car nation
“The French government is determined to support these industry transformations,” says Bruno le Maire. “France will stay an important car industry nation. That’s the way we wanted to go when President Macron announced the €8 billion plan last summer.”
“The plan consists of four pillars: incentives for car purchase, aid for the industry (in exchange for relocation), support for innovation, and financing the training and reconversion of the workers. By the way, I hope that Renault joins the ACC project on battery production.”
On the 26th of April, the Economy Minister will unite all stakeholders to talk about reconversion. That’s why we have been supporting the ACC project from the beginning.”
“The ecological transition is imperative,” says Le Maire. “But the environmental legislation of the EU has to stay incentive, not destructive. At the moment, the new Euro 7 rules go too far. Our manufacturers won’t cope with it. We still have to work on this.”
“This is essential for me,” comments Carlos Tavares. “At the moment, the proposed Euro 7 regulations surpass the physical laws. They make the manufacturing of ICE engines impossible.”
“We have to re-establish a respectful dialogue. Quite a lot of new regulations were issued without consultation with the industry, a price we have paid because one competitor caused a big problem.”
Tavares is, of course, referring to dieselgate, which has seriously undermined trust between politics and the car industry. But he also puts one of the industry’s hobbyhorses forward regarding the ecological transition: the charging infrastructure.
Bruno Le Maire has responded to this: “We will bring together the different actors and compensate for the delay. Before the summer, 40% of the ‘autoroute aires’ will have fast-chargers already. We spend a lot of money on it, but we don’t have the time anymore to look back. We have to move into the future with innovative choices. Good charging infrastructure is one of them.”