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Monday, September 26, 2011

Where are the French?

...they must have all the love they need at home...
Mike Smitka
First it was the Japanese. Then a couple Germans and the Koreans. Now the rest of the Germans. The Italians have one foot in the water. But except for a fleeting presence through American Motors, both with Simca as a subsidiary and later with Renault as an owner, the French -- who dominated the global industry in its formative years in the 19th century -- are nowhere to be found. Why?
Now it may be that Renault's control of Nissan represents de facto entry. Certainly purchasing is handled on a global basis, and there's cooperation in engineering. It may be that some Nissan products currently on sale in fact use a Renault platform (Perhaps one of my readers can fill in the gap.) But the absence is puzzling.
That's even more true of PSA (Peugeot-Citroen). The last time I looked (I'm probably showing my years!) they were doing well in Europe and solidly profitable. They keep up with technology, as seen in the customer base of the winners of the PACE Supplier of the Year innovation award for which I'm a judge. They're simply not here.
So what is their strategy? Do they believe that sufficient technology resides in the supplier base that they do not need sheer size to fund the R&D for tomorrow's products? Are they making enough money in small cars that they've chosen to "stick to their knitting" -- not venture into segments with which they have no experience -- and are therefore passing up the US market with its cheap gas and penchange for fuel guzzlers?
I don't know, but I've started to think about the variance in such "macro" strategy across the top vehicle assemblers. Suzuki strikes me as the closest analog, but they have a strong base in India, though it's probably no longer accurate to say that they dominate the market through their joint venture Maruti. Then there's Daihatsu, but they were gobbled up by Toyota and so, for better or for worse, are shackled to the small vehicle niche. Daihatsu long ago exited the US market; Suzuki seems likely to. So maybe PSA made a sensible strategic decision, and refused to join the herd in entering (and now exiting) the US.
My curiosity is piqued, but I have no answers.