Trying to Shutter a French Auto Plant

SEPTEMBER 10, 2013

peugeot plantAt Peugeot’s soon-to-close car factory just north of Paris, writes Barron’s Business (Sept.9, 2013), management is grappling with an ambitious year-end production quota: finding jobs for the factory’s nearly 3,000 workers. This was the promise Peugeot made to win government and union approval for closing the largest French auto plant in 2 decades. The job placement effort, costing $749 million, underscores how expensive and time consuming it is to close even a single factory in Western Europe, when it is politically feasible at all.

Peugeot joins companies, including GM and Ford, that have begun the process of closing plants in Western Europe, where a glut of excess production capacity has made many factories unprofitable. But even though more shutdowns are necessary to adapt to depressed European sales, tough experiences for all 3 car makers may give others pause.

“It can cost a billion euros ($1.31 billion) or more to close a vehicle-assembly plant in Western Europe,” said one expert, who said companies have put off closing plants because of the cost. “That’s not an environment that encourages investment.” (U.S. factory shutdowns were quicker and cheaper to pull off. In the U.S., auto makers culled 24 factories during the 2008 economic meltdown.)

Peugeot has been through a year long wringer, with political obstacles followed by union protests that at times turned violent. In the end, the company agreed to give its workers a package of retraining, job placement and severance benefits that are generous even by French standards. As an example, a dozen auto workers were taking shifts driving a bus in a parking lot to train for future jobs Peugeot has lined up for them at Paris’s transit agency. Peugeot is paying for the $13,000-a-person training. “It is the least they can do,” said one worker.

“The alternative to shutting down capacity is being more flexible with capacity,” said Peugeot’s HR chief.

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

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