Interview Date: January, 21 2013
Professional Profile: Jacques Bousquet is a graduate of the EDHEC Business School in Lille and majored in Business Management at the University of Michigan of Detroit, the Duke University in North Carolina and the INSEAD in Fontainebleau. From 1982 to 1998 he held positions of increasing responsibility in Ford; from 1999 to 2002 in Fiat Auto, and later DaimlerChrysler France as Managing Director and then he covered the role of CEO of Chrysler Europe from 2006 to 2008. Since January 2009 he was President and CEO of Renault Italy.
Since June 2011 Jacques Bousquet is also President of UNRAE.
According to some specialists, the great world crisis that is especially affecting the automotive industry is even worse than that of the early 1900s. In your view, are there possible ways to turn this negative period into a positive opportunity?
Actually, if our analysis were merely based on the figure that refers to the overall global automotive market, we would be induced to think that there is no crisis at all, since registrations of cars and commercial vehicles in 2012 grew by over 5%, reaching nearly 80 million units.
But the fact is that today’s automotive industry has to deal with two very different market environments: on the one hand Europe, suffering from an economic crisis that I would describe as generalized, for which each country is still searching for the right countermeasures and for ways to boost consumption, including the purchase of cars – which consumers are discouraged from buying because of high taxes and fuel prices. On the other hand the rest of the world where, even in times of depressed economy, the automotive still has margins for growth, more evident in Countries going through booming economic and industrial development, like India, China, Brazil or Russia.
This difference in itself answers much of your question.
Could you explain that?
Today, an international outlook allows automotive manufacturers to compensate for temporary or long-lasting crises in some markets by taking advantage of the potential of other markets and redefining a new industrial and commercial balance within their organizations. The Renault Group currently sells over 50% of its vehicles outside Europe, and is experiencing growth in all regions except the Old Continent. However, beyond going global I believe there are two other strategies to make a phase of economic stagnation turn into an opportunity.
The first is to take advantage of evolving consumption patterns. It’s what Renault did with the Dacia brand, one of the few still on an upward trend even in Europe and in Italy; a brand that has invented a new approach in auto consumption and revolutionized traditional patterns. This new approach is based on low-cost philosophy applied to cars: buying a car needs smart thinking, simplicity and saving should be priorities, but without giving up good design, quality and performance, as demonstrated by successful models like the Duster or the Sandero.
And the second strategy?
The second strategy is innovation, which should never be stopped – all the more so in times of crisis, because it creates hope for a better future. I am talking about innovation in design, embodied today – as far as Renault is concerned – by the alluring style of the new Clio, and soon by other models to be introduced later in the year, like Captur), and innovation in engine technology, which can no longer evolve without regard for environmental protection. In this regard, in the last few years Renault has focused on achieving two parallel objectives: reducing polluting emissions and consumption in traditional fuel motors, through the Energy line of engines developed from our experience in F1, and developing electric vehicles on a large scale, with a full range of zero emission models (the Renault Z.E. range), which is currently a leader in this segment both in Europe and in Italy.
As of October 2012, electric cars market share in Italy is 0.04%.
Are you still convinced this is the right time, and you have the right product, to invest in production, rather than in research only? When do you expect a BEP?
The time is right for different reasons: the economic crisis demands solutions to develop new sectors (and the energy sector has great potential); oil prices and progressive oil depletion scenarios should lead us to consider alternative sources, and – most importantly – the impact of transports on air quality forces us to plan for more eco-sustainable and responsible mobility. In this perspective, 100% electric vehicles are the cleanest and most effective technology, with zero emissions during use.
Clearly, any new technology requires time for its introduction and development, all the more so if it involves the need to install charging infrastructure throughout the territory. So in my opinion we should not be disappointed with the proportion of electric cars currently on the market (incidentally, the percentage you mentioned does not include electric quadricycles, a segment that experienced strong sales when we launched the Renault Twizy, with as many as 1,600 units sold in 2012.) And anyway, very similar percentages were seen a few decades ago, when Diesel engines were introduced. Today, they are market leaders. Also, don’t forget that available products are limited to a few models by a few manufacturers, but they will increase considerably over the 2012-2014 period.
A true revolution in automobiles, like the shift to electric vehicles, is neither conceived for short-term returns, nor should be judged on the basis of the figures recorded initially, but rather from trends and consumer appreciation. According to many surveys, today 75% of Italians would consider buying an electric car. It is up to all of us, then (and by all I mean automotive manufacturers, government and local authorities, energy companies, and transport sector operators) to put this positive consensus to good use, by working together to facilitate increasing success of electric cars with the public.