May 16, 2021

Component shortage hits French automotive production hard

Posted on Apr 15, 2021, 1:00 PMUpdated Apr 15, 2021, 1:43 PM

If automobile production in the United States seems particularly vulnerable to the shortage of semiconductors, Europe, and more particularly France, are not spared. The difficulties encountered by Stellantis, Renault and Toyota seem to be increasing, even if the companies concerned are not very open-mouthed on the subject.

It is in Sochaux, the historic cradle of Peugeot, that the situation is most worrying. The 308 production line will finish its third consecutive week of shutdown there on Friday: the manufacturer no longer receives the digital panels which are fitted to the vehicle’s dashboard.

The 700 or so employees concerned had been able to keep their full remuneration until last week, thanks to a company agreement for annual modulation of working time. But most employees must now go to partial unemployment.

The 308 suffers, not the 3008

“Our luck is that the site has a second production line dedicated to the 3008 and 5008, which runs normally,” explains Eric Peultier, union representative for Force Ouvrière. This makes it possible to switch certain employees assigned to the 308 on this line, which operates in 3X8. The assembly of the two SUVs, which occupies most of the 7,000 employees of the site, has so far only experienced one session cancellation for the three teams.

But the supply remains fragile, and the number of Saturdays worked is not as high as the order book would justify it, indicates the unionist. The latter deplores the transition to a one-line organization in 2022, “which will make us even more vulnerable”.

One-off interruptions

The impact on the other hexagonal sites of Stellantis is more limited, even if the situation seems very fluid. The Rennes plant has experienced several occasional interruptions since March, the most recent dating back to Tuesday. The operation of the Mulhouse site is also disrupted.

The constructor of “opposite”, Renault, is also seriously affected. “All our factories in France are affected: they are stopped one day here, two days there, depending on the arrival of parts”, recognizes a spokesperson for the French manufacturer, without further clarification. Renault had indicated that it had partially closed factories in Romania, Morocco and Spain – where the manufacturer has just confirmed that it was negotiating with its unions for the extension of partial shutdowns in Valladolid (where the Captur is produced) and in Palencia (Megane and Kadjar), for a period of between 31 and 39 days by the end of September.

Flins in the turbulence

In France, union sources, it is the Flins factory that is the most disturbed. “She is arrested almost every other week, and it will last at least until June,” said Franck Daoût, CFDT delegate of the firm in Losange. The Yvelines site produces electric ZOEs (and to a lesser extent the Nissan Micra), yet battery-powered cars contain more semiconductors than their thermal equivalents.

As for Douai (Espace, Scenic, Talisman), its slow pace is mainly linked to the drop in demand for the vehicles it assembles. “In utility vehicles, the situation is a little better,” says Franck Daoût. Sandouville (Trafic) and Batilly (Master) have so far suffered little impact, while Maubeuge (Kangoo) is starting to be affected by the lack of chips used in car radios.

Finally, the Toyota plant in Onnaing, where the Yaris is produced, also ended up being affected after having been spared for a long time. “We closed on April 6, then on 12 and 13. And the management is now also talking about April 26,” says Thomas Mercier, CFDT delegate. “Until then, we had been able to compensate for the lack of certain parts by producing more hybrid cars, but this is no longer the case”.

“No visibility”

Difficult at this stage, to anticipate the rest of the events in the French factories. “We have no visibility”, we regret in a manufacturer. At Toyota, a spokesperson estimates the impact at 10% of production planned for the first four months of 2020. “But for the rest, we would need a crystal ball …”

Renault, for its part, evaluated in mid-February the impact of shortages on its global production at 100,000 cars over the year. “In France, management expected 350,000 production vehicles less in the first half, which it hoped to catch up mostly in the second half,” says Franck Daoût. Already, the unions are worried about the efforts that will be required of employees if they have to make up for lost time. Given the worsening outlook linked to a fire at a Japanese supplier, or the cold in Texas, it is not certain that the question will arise anytime soon.

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