I was given a grant to complete a short study of the French car manufacturing company, Renault, in which I would visit Renault factories in different areas of France that were affected by outsourcing of production to lower cost countries. As a part of one of my French classes I was expected to follow French news and report on a story each week, as a result of this I became aware of the situation involving Renault’s outsourcing. At the time I was also taking International Economics in which we discussed reasons for outsourcing. I took this as a great opportunity to apply what I was learning in my classes and put both of my majors to good use in the real world while I was going to be in France.
The first factory I visited was Renault’s factory in Douai, France. Douai is a relatively small town in the Nord département of France mainly dependent on the industry located in the area. Douai itself looked much like any other French village and I saw no real signs of struggle due to the decreased production at the factory; that is until I left Douai for an even smaller outlying village known as Hénin-Beaumont. There I met a few locals that characterized the town as a bidonville (French slang for a “shantytown”). There was a prevailing negative sentiment in this area towards Renault and I was told a well-known French phrase, “Avec Renault, toujours un nouvel bruit.” This translates to “With Renault, always a new sound [in reference to engine problems]”. It was in that town that the effects of the decreased production were truly felt.
The other factory that I was able to visit was in Flins, around 30 miles north of Paris. The Flins factory itself was not hit as hard as the Douai factory by the cutbacks in production, but it was an interesting one to see because of its proximity to Paris. The villages surrounding the factory appeared to be somewhat upscale with each house having fenced in front and back yards and multiple cars in the driveway, more often than not non-Renault cars. I even walked through a large petanque tournament (similar to bocce ball) in which several companies appeared to have teams, although I did not see any Renault teams. Upon approaching the factory there was a noticeable change in the surroundings and the only apartment buildings I had seen in hours were located right next to the factory.
From what I could tell in visiting these two factories, and speaking with several people in my host city including a retired Renault worker, there appears to be a real disconnect between Renault and the French people. I believe that in choosing to increase profitability by outsourcing to low-cost countries, Renault has lost the faith of its people and it was incredibly interesting to experience that first hand as a part of my abroad experience.