Renault CEO: "What’s the point in refusing progress?”

The Renault chief recently studied the situation more closely, taking a nine-day tour of Chinese factories, driving cars and meeting some of the biggest players. He returned profoundly impressed and with the impression that in some areas the Renault Group could do more business with China, not less.

“If you are a keen car person and look into European car progress, you will soon see that from the 1930s on, there were many surprises in car design: lots of unusual designs and sparks of genius,” says de Meo. “Lately we have become more predictable, without much room for genius. Our cars are built mainly around reassuring the customers.

“In China, creative genius exists. Some cars are useless, but some are amazing. I met a guy whose company had just built his first car, a Porsche Taycan rival. He admitted he started the project with no passion for cars; he’d been making mobile phones. But he tested more than 70 cars to get his product right. I tried it and couldn’t find one mistake. He was getting ready to sell it for €35,000! What do you say to a guy like that? Do you tell him not to sell it? Of course not. I say well done, or ‘chapeau’ as the French say.”

De Meo avoids minimising Chinese achievements just because their system, and the government’s role, is different.

“It’s clear they have advantages,” he admits, “and they don’t have all the obligations we do. But I don’t want to talk about subsidies – that’s not my cup of tea. They have a system I’d describe as ‘administrative Darwinism’. The financial institutions and government take a financial risk, and businesses take the commercial risk. 

To participate, start-ups have to jump into a piranha pool with 20 others, and they all eat one another. Out of 20 players the authorities want five, and competition is brutal. Most won’t survive, but they make a lot of progress and use a lot of technology along the way.”

So what does de Meo see as the way to counter China’s expansion? Stop complaining and work harder seems to be the gist, but he’s too diplomatic to put it so baldly. The first move is obvious, he believes: Europeans must look at how the Chinese work, then roll up their sleeves and do the same.

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