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Thursday, 25 January, 2001, 20:21 GMT
French shed few tears at Micra's loss
Flins plant
The loss of the project has not put French jobs at risk
By the BBC's Paris office

For workers at the Renault factory at Flins, west of Paris, the news that Renault's partner Nissan is to build the new Micra in Sunderland comes as no great surprise.

Some even think the threat they posed to the British plant was blown out of all proportion.

"Everyone knows that Sunderland is one of the best factories around, that they simply can't do any better there," conceded Daniel Richter of the CFDT union before the announcement.

"Renault themselves estimate that Sunderland is 15-20% more productive than Flins - with much higher standards and better working practices."

Car worker at Sunderland plant
The French accept that Sunderland is more efficient
In other words - despite the fuss - there was perhaps never any real risk of the Micra going anywhere else but Sunderland.

Certainly there has been nothing like the media attention in France on the Nissan decision, and there is no outpouring of rage and shame now that it has gone to Britain.

There are several reasons for that.

First, the French car industry has not just been through the traumatic year that Britain has suffered, with the planned closures at Vauxhall in Luton and Ford in Dagenham.

Though suffering from the general European malaise of over-capacity, the French industry is in reasonable shape, with two home-grown companies - Renault-Nissan and Peugeot-Citreon - competing successfully on the world market.

Second, a defeat for Sunderland would have raised enormous questions for Labour's policy on the euro - a further sign perhaps that staying out of the single currency was bringing unacceptable costs - but in France that debate is long gone.

The [Japanese] idea that production equals endless repetition is an affront to liberty - it would not go down well with the workers

Union spokesman Daniel Richter
And third and most important, there are no jobs at stake.

If the Micra had gone to Flins, 1,200 jobs would have been lost at Sunderland - and that in the run-up to an election.

But at Flins now, life on the Clio and Twingo production lines goes on as normal.

"Flins does perfectly well on its own," said the Renault spokesman there, Matthieu Perrier.

Among the workforce - strongly unionised - there is even a touch of disdain that Sunderland won the support of Nissan management by accepting Japanese-style work methods which find little favour at Flins.

"We are absolutely not used to working that way at Renault," said Richter.

We ask ourselves what we have to do when we have a problem - the Japanese ask themselves how to avoid having the problem in the first place

Newly-trained worker
Battista Manganaro
"The idea that production equals endless repetition is an affront to liberty. It would not go down well with the workers."

But necessity breeds change. Elsewhere in France, Toyota is about to open a new factory at the northern city of Valenciennes, a place, like Sunderland, badly hit by industrial blight in the past 20 years.

There, with jobs in short supply, car-workers are rather less sniffy about Japanese methods.

"They have a completely different approach to us French," said Battista Manganaro, a 28-year-old who has just finished training at Valenciennes.

"With us, we ask ourselves what we have to do when we have a problem. They ask themselves how to avoid having the problem in the first place. It works," he said.

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See also:

25 Jan 01 | Business
Sunderland wins Micra contract
25 Jan 01 | Business
Q&A: Why Nissan chose the UK
17 Jan 01 | Business
Nissan Micra, French style
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