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Renault boss calls for more small cars and better charging in 'Letter to Europe'

Automotive chief wants EU citizens to recognise struggles facing industry and get industrial 'Champions League' reward system off the ground

Published: 19 Mar 2024

They say the art of letter writing is dead, but Renault boss Luca de Meo is defying that trend having penned an eighteen-page missive entitled ‘Letter to Europe’. It’s no love letter.

The Italian chief talks about the challenges facing the automotive industry in Europe, from the influx of Chinese imports, to the lack of sovereignty around raw materials. He warns a failure to implement a strategy to deal with them successfully will threaten European prosperity. Oh.

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In the document, the CEO cites six key areas – decarbonisation, digitalisation, regulation, upskilling and volatility in technologies and pricing - hitting the car industry simultaneously. Adding in the objective of getting to net zero by 2035, de Meo said "no other industry is facing an ambition on this scale".

The 'advocacy paper' (as he phrases it) looks at how other big economies – namely China and the US – are managing such big-ticket changes. He points to China's strategic planning that has given it a smart advantage. Coupled with government subsidies in automotive manufacturing, its cars can afford to be as much as €7,000 (£5,900) cheaper than European models.

Meanwhile, the US is incentivising its automotive industry. Europe? De Meo reckons (paraphrased, of course) Europe is just regulating the industry into oblivion. That the increasing number of regulations puts additional pressure on the sector, which employs 13 million people across the continent and accounts for eight per cent of European GDP.

However, de Meo warns against making an enemy of China. On the contrary, he said: “Europe is facing a complicated equation. It should be protecting its markets, but it is dependent on China for its supplies of lithium, nickel and cobalt, and on Taiwan for its semiconductors. It is also in Europe’s advantage to learn from Chinese manufacturers, who are a generation ahead in terms of the performance and costs of electric vehicles.

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"Relations with China will need to be managed. Completely closing the door to them would be the worst possible response," he added.

The head honcho lists the action points he’d like to see implemented by whomever gets voted into power after the EU elections in early June. The eight suggested measures include adopting technological and scientific neutrality – and enabling the introduction of synthetic fuels (e-fuels) - working with Europe’s top 200 largest cities to roll-out solutions at scale to make manufacturing more cost-effective, and introducing a reward chart – “a sort of industrial Champions League’ – to incentivise change.

He also identifies 10 projects Europe needs to catch up on, including the promotion of small European cars, development of EV charging infrastructure and V2G technologies, and pooling waste management, so Europe has a fighting chance of staying in the global game of greener mobility.

The ideas aren't wild – most are practical and make a lot of sense, even the one that talks about 'boosting the potential of hydrogen' (yep, that old chestnut) – but de Meo puts a price tag of €250 billion (£213 billion) on the commitment from the get-go. Whether voters are willing to stand by that kind of figure is yet to be seen. You can download and read the whole thing here. What do you reckon?

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