Green technology is the answer to the declining fortunes of France's auto industry, according to a new government plan to turn the sector around. The strategy for France's carmakers was unveiled Wednesday by the Ministry for Industrial Recovery — a government department created by President Francois Hollande to put his plan to "re-industrialize" France into action. Across Europe, lots and factories are filling up with unsold cars. Industry executives estimate factories have the capacity to build 20 percent more cars than they are able to sell. Sweden's Volvo and Germany's Daimler both reported this week that their profits dropped in the second quarter.
Frances' PSA Peugeot Citroen, which reported a loss for the first half Wednesday, two weeks ago unveiled plans to eliminate 8,000 jobs and shut a major factory in France. The government said the decline of France's auto industry has been particularly marked: The country produced just 2.2 billion cars last year, as compared to 2005's 3.5 billion. It employs 800,000 people — 30 percent fewer people than it did 10 years ago. "France isn't abandoning its automotive industry," Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Wednesday after a Cabinet meeting on the plan.
Hollande's government hopes France can carve out a space for its auto industry by driving hard into environmentally friendly cars — a sector in which the country's automakers are already prominent. The plan includes a variety of measures aimed at rewarding companies that invest in green technology and drivers who buy environmentally-friendly cars. The main part of the government's plan is to increase the rebates French consumers receive for buying an electric or hybrid car — no matter who makes it. The government estimates that it expects to pay out around €500 million ($600 million) in such rebates next year.
Several hundred millions of euros of incentives will also be introduced for carmakers and their suppliers, especially small companies, that invest in green technology or create new jobs. Industrial Recovery Minister Arnaud Montebourg announced. Much of the money for those incentives comes from funds already budgeted that are being redeployed. Employment Minister Michel Sapin, who was also at the plan's launch, said it put the government "on the offensive." He said that France would have to anticipate changes in the automobile sector in order to succeed. "We want to support clean cars, green cars," said Ayrault. "It's the choice of the future."
In addition to the rebates for consumers, most of which will paid for from higher taxes on polluting cars, the only new spending in the plan is €175 million ($211 million)that is included in incentives for small companies that create new jobs in the auto industry and allowances to buy clean-energy cars for state use. Mostly, the plan maintains funds that would have expired or redeploys funds already budgeted. Here's a look at where they'll go:
- €250 million ($302 million) to small companies, especially the small subcontractors that work with the major auto firms, to help them invest in green technology or otherwise modernize their operations,
- €350 million ($423 million) for investment in auto research.
- €400 million ($484 million) in tax credits for auto research,
- €50 million ($60.5 million) to build more charging stations for electric cars,
- €260 million ($315 million) for the modernization of plants of auto equipment-makers.
Investors initially seemed cheered by the plan, parts of which were leaked late Tuesday in the French press. Shares in PSA Peugeot Citroen surged when the market opened despite an announcement of less-than-stellar earnings. Renault, the other major French carmaker, was also up early in the day. It announces its earnings Friday. Trading in both companies was extremely volatile as analysts tried to parse the deal. In afternoon trading, Peugeot had erased nearly all of its gains and was up just 0.2 percent; Renault was 1.2 percent higher.
Associated Press writer Lori Hinnant contributed to this report.