Renault’s made-in-China EV stirs labor unrest at home

Europe

Renault unions are angry about the automaker producing a new Dacia full-electric minicar in China and selling it in Europe, a clash that could become more common given how many companies have similar plans.

Labor groups are attacking Renault for exporting the Dacia Spring — a model the automaker bills as Europe’s cheapest electric vehicle — to Europe from a plant in central China’s Hubei province.

Workers have been on edge about a jobs-cutting plan the company announced just before it secured a state-backed loan in June.

“We are fundamentally opposed to making the Spring in China,” said Frank Daoust, a spokesman for the CFDT union. “This isn’t in keeping with government support for the car industry and jobs in France.”

The complaints may become more common.

Automakers are planning a wave of similar exports, many of them EVs. The models include BMW’s iX3, which recently started production in Shenyang and Tesla’s Model 3 built near Shanghai.

Several brands plan to base the manufacturing of their entire lineups in China, including Daimler’s Smart and Volvo Car’s Polestar and Lynk & CO, all three of which are jointly owned by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group.

Renault’s plan is particularly tricky for political reasons. The company has drawn a small portion from the 5 billion-euro ($5.9 billion) loan that France backed earlier this year, and President Emmanuel Macron only made government funds available after the automaker agreed to consult with unions on plans for two underutilized factories at home.

The FO labor union, which also represents Renault workers, called for the company to stick to its goal to make France a global center of excellence for electric cars. The union said the Spring’s carbon footprint will be “disastrous” because of the emissions involved transporting the model to Europe from China.

“It’s inconceivable and irresponsible to make them anywhere but France,” the labor group said in a statement.

Renault will make the Spring at the plant it runs jointly with Dongfeng Motor Group and alliance partner Nissan in the city of Shiyan, where the electric Renault City K-ZE, a Chinese-market version of the Spring, is produced.

Renault CEO Luca de Meo unveiled the Dacia model last week along with the more upscale Megane eVision planned for 2022. Renault will build that EV at its Douai plant in northern France.

Before Renault closed the books on a record first-half loss, Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard warned French lawmakers of the threat China’s exports of electric cars posed. “We are going to face ferocious competition from within and outside Europe,” Senard said in June. “We have to turn around quickly to be able to counter these new entrants.”

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