French automakers seek to catch up in China's markets to recoup European losses
Feb 26, 2014 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Feb 26, 2014 12:00 am
Frenchautomakers Renault and Peugeot are looking belatedly to China to revive their flagging fortunes but picked a tough time to try to expand.
Three decades after Volkswagen became the first global automaker to produce cars in China in 1984, Renault SA announced plans in December for a Chinese factory.
France's biggest auto brand, PSA Peugeot Citroen, in China since the '80s without carving out significant market share, says it will be more aggressive after its local partner, Dongfeng Motor Co., last week agreed to take a 14 percent stake in PSA.
Their motivation is clear: Europe's auto sales slumped last year to their lowest level since 1995, forcing French brands to join U.S. and European rivals in looking to China to drive revenues. "PSA is back on the attack," said its chairman, Philippe Varin, in a video distributed by the company. "We will benefit from the support of our Chinese partner."
They face competition from market leaders including VW and General Motors Co., which have nationwide dealer networks and are neck-and-neck for the title of China's topselling auto brand with just under a 10 percent market share each. Toyota, Nissan and Ford have been in China for a decade. All spend heavily to create models for Chinese tastes.
Despite more than two decades in China, PSA's market share is just 3.5 percent.
The contrast with Europe and the urgency of ramping up business in China is stark in the French automakers' corporate results.
Peugeot reported a 2.3 billion euro ($3.2 billion) loss last year as its sales in France and other European markets edged down to just over 2.8 million vehicles. In China, sales by its joint venture with Dongfeng rose 26.1 percent, though to a still-modest 550,000 vehicles. The investment deal unveiled Feb. 19 calls for Dongfeng and the French government each to inject 800 million euros ($1.1 billion) in Peugeot.
In exchange, the governments and the Peugeot family each will own equal 14 percent stakes.
Along with a rights issue to other shareholders, Peugeot aims to raise a total of 3 billion euros ($4.1 billion).
In China, Peugeot wants to raise production to 1.5 million vehicles a year by early in the next decade, which would match VW and GM levels today. It says it will tighten links with Dongfeng and set up a venture to export Chinese-made cars to Southeast Asia.
As for Renault SA, it made money last year but its profit was down 65 percent from 2012 at 586 million euros ($761 million). The maker of the Twingo and Clio blamed restructuring costs. Renault, which also is partnered with Dongfeng, says the first vehicles from its 7.8 billion yuan ($1.3 billion) factory in Dongfeng's home city of Wuhan in central China are due to hit the market in 2016.
Dongfeng, China's second-biggest automaker, also manufactures vehicles for Nissan, Honda Motor Co. and South Korea's Kia Motor Co.