France deploys $8.8 billion to rescue ailing car industry

Full Screen
1 / 11

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

The logo of French carmaker Renault is pictured at the Flins plant of French carmaker Renault in Aubergenville, west of Paris, Monday, May 25, 2020. French President Emmanuel Macron is set to unveil sweeping new measures to rescue France's car industry, hammered by virus lockdown and the resulting recession. The issue is politically sensitive, since France is proud of its auto industry, which employs 400,000 people and is an important part of the country's remaining manufacturing sector. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

PARIS – France’s government is injecting more than 8 billion euros ($8.8 billion) to save the country’s car industry from huge losses wrought by virus lockdowns, and wants to use the crisis to make France the No. 1 producer of electric vehicles in Europe.

Starting next week, consumers can get up to 12,000 euros from the government for buying an electric car under the “historic” plan unveiled Tuesday by French President Emmanuel Macron.

“Our country wouldn’t be the same without its great brands – Renault, Peugeot, Citroen,” Macron said, decrying an “unprecedented crisis” for the industry that has seen production plunge more than 90% in France alone.

Carmakers and governments around the world are grappling with similar losses. Politicians are divided over whether and how to bail out an industry that already won billions in government support a decade ago after the 2008 financial crisis — and that was already facing major new costs and disruption with growing demand for autonomous and cleaner cars.

Macron's 8-billion-euro plan includes a 5-billion-euro French government loan guarantee under discussion for struggling French automaker Renault, but not the millions the government has already spent on temporary unemployment payments to auto workers told to stay home for weeks to keep the virus at bay.

The new plan includes government subsidies to encourage consumers to scrap their old cars and buy lower-emissions models, and longer-term investment in innovative technology. Macron set a goal of producing 1 million electric cars in France by 2025.

“Our country should embody this avant-garde,” he said. "We need not only to save (the industry) but transform it."

Macron’s plan appears ambitious. Battery-powered cars are still only a fraction of auto sales in Europe, though manufacturers are focusing on them to meet the European Union’s carbon emissions targets.