A stone’s throw from the Belgian border, three Renault group plants are rapidly transforming to become the group’s electric lung.
“To be a builder, you need to be strong in your country. But producing in France is only possible on one condition: you have to be on top of everything.”it is with these words that Luciano Biondo, the head of Electricity, welcomes us.
“Producing in France is only possible on one condition: you have to be on top of everything.”
This project is central to the Renault Group CEO Luca de Meo’s “Renaulution” plan. Right here, in this region that has suffered the brunt of de-industrialization, producing locally is more than a symbol, it is a strong political emblem. French President Emmanuel Macron himself made the trip last year to praise France’s attractiveness.
A stone’s throw from Belgium, Renault will embrace its electric future and build its largest electric vehicle production unit. The three sites at Douai, Ruitz and Maubeuge were merged into a subsidiary of ElectriCity.
The boss of Electricidade would also like the Belgians not to hesitate to cross the border to apply in his factories. The Maubeuge factory is only about thirty kilometers from Mons, for example. “We love the Belgians”, smiles the boss. Before arriving at Renault, he ran Toyota Valenciennes and had an office at Toyota’s European headquarters in Zaventem close to NATO.
Three factories, one subsidiary
Since the project to consolidate the three factories into a subsidiary was approved in 2020, things are moving fast. Along production lines in Douai, Scenic and Espace share the stage with the new electric Megane. The industrial process comes from the Renault-Nissan alliance. Implemented in Douai, it allows to switch between the different models in production without stopping the rhythm.
It’s rare enough to be stressed. On the Douai lines, the new electric cars are connected to the thermal cars without any problems. A very useful almost total flexibility. “We can produce 4 different platforms and up to 8 different models at the same time”smiles Jonathan Larcher at the head of the factory’s workshop department.
The rise of the electric vehicle is certain, but its commercial pace remains uncertain. The “ASL” process actually makes it possible to “assemble any Alliance vehicle”, he recalls at the factory. In Douai, the Talisman was discontinued, another thermal model, probably the Scenic in its short version, should be discontinued in the summer. Another electric vehicle, slightly larger than the electric Megane, should soon be on the lines. Then will come the rebirth of the R5, in electric mode, in 2024. A model that arouses the enthusiasm of lovers of the diamond brand.
All this without the Maubeuge-produced Renault Kangoo, Nissan Townstar and Mercedes-Benz Citan. “We also have a project with Nissan Europe. They want Electricty to produce the next Micra,” adds Biando. Here in 2024.
Square meters divided by two
The old production process consisted of two stages. Everything was condensed on the ground floor. Where 6 robots worked simultaneously, there are now 10. For the body part, 98% of the work is automated. “1,200 robots assemble this box”, details Jonathan Larcher.
In the spaces released on the upper floor, Renault assembles its batteries. Battery boxes are produced in Ruitz. Electric cells come from LG. But this is temporary. 140 hectares were assigned to the Sino-Japanese Envision AESC on an L-shaped plot of land around the plant. The company will build a gigafactory there that will be able to supply the battery cells directly and without transport to the factory.
The goal is to produce 9 GWh per year from 2024 and increase to 30 GWh by 2029. The result is 1,000 jobs, in addition to the 5,500 jobs at ElectroCity’s various sites.
At the same time, Renault is engaged in a strategic partnership with the company Verkor to develop a gigafactory in Dunkirk with the aim of producing 50 GWh of cells for high-performance batteries. Ultimately, Renault will own 20% of Verkor.
each other, plans to locate production of Renault electric vehicles in France are expected to create 4,500 jobs, a far cry from the idea that the electric car is a job destroyer.
However, it was necessary to convince the workers of the factories of northern France. Chef Luciano Biondo is quite proud of the result that resulted in a deal on June 8th. When, for example, the 35 hours paid for 39 hours were over, everything was redone “starting with a blank sheet”.
At the same time, the boss is trying to intelligently involve all workers in his ElectriCity – this is essential to being profitable, he says. Every worker must understand the car and what it does, rather than just repeating a task. According to him, this is the key to ensuring that everything is at the highest level in the factory.
Every two weeks, workers set aside time to suggest improvements. “We must give an industrial culture to the unions. CIt is a mistake that in many companies it is the HRDs who speak with the unions“, believes Biondo. the boss.
It is curious to note that the Douai factory decided to invest in two stages. Capacity is 30 vehicles per hour, but should be doubled in a second investment phase bending the machinery. The assembly could, on the same line, be increased tenfold according to needs.
“Stronger than Tesla”
By the summer of 2023, we should have switched completely to electric, estimates the factory boss. “But it’s the customer who will decide,” he adds. The aim is for the total change in Douai to take place by 2024 at the latest. The Kangoo thermal plant can obviously exceed this date in Maubeuge.
“We are stronger than Tesla. Coming to build a new factory in a potato field where there is nothing is much easier than doing it in companies that are 50 years old.”
But the dynamic is launched, in this region that suffered economically, the location of the electric vehicle is a way of changing the local narrative.
“At Renault, we are stronger than Tesla. Coming to build a new factory in a potato field where there is nothing is much easier than doing it in companies that are 50 years old,” says Biondo. “I was always convinced that we could produce in France and the electric vehicle is a chance to do so”, he concludes.
- A stone’s throw from Belgium, Renault is creating its biggest electric car production center based on three historic factories (Douai, Ruits and Maubeuge).
- It’s about proving that producing in France is possible, but you have to be excellent in every aspect.
- Here, a hyper-flexible production system from the Renault-Nissan Alliance makes it possible to switch up to 8 models on the production line.
- The electric car can generate jobs, especially in the crucial area of gigafactories.