Renault Plans 'Massive Investment' to Catch Rivals in China

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French carmaker Renault will make "massive investments" in China, it said on Monday, aiming to ramp up sales of locally-built vehicles in the world's biggest car market and cut its dependence on cash-strapped Europeans.

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Renault has lagged European rivals such as France's PSA Peugeot Citroen and Germany's BMW and Mercedes in expanding in China, relying on strong sales of its popular small and budget cars in Europe and other emerging markets to help it cope in a shaky global economy.

The company said its sales of cars and light trucks rose 3.2 percent last year to 2.7 million vehicles, which analysts said was probably slightly behind global industry growth.

It sold just 34,000 cars in China, compared with 734,000 at Peugeot, but believes all that will change once it starts selling vehicles next year through a joint venture with China's Dongfeng.

"In China, we will have a minimum of 3 percent and very likely 6 percent of the market," Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said at a roundtable discussion in Paris.

"That's a lot of cars, and that means you can expect a massive investment program in China in the coming years," he added, declining to give figures.

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In July, Renault said it was building a Chinese factory with an initial production capacity of 100,000 vehicles, with the aim of ramping up output to more than 500,000 cars.

Renault's vehicle registrations climbed 12.5 percent in Europe last year, outpacing 5.4 percent growth in the market as a whole, thanks to strong sales of the Renault Clio and Captur as well as the Dacia Sandero and Duster.

By contrast, new registrations outside Europe fell 5.9 percent, with a 10.7 percent drop in volumes in the Americas and a 9.2 percent decline in Africa, the Middle East and India.

Renault is counting on market share gains in Europe to deliver continued growth in 2015, even though it expects sales in Russia, its third-largest market, to fall 20-25 percent.

In the Americas, where Renault sells cars in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia, the company saw registrations fall 10.7 percent last year.

Overall, the company sees the global market growing by 2 percent this year, with Europe seen growing 1-2 percent and France remaining stable, it said.

At 1455 GMT, Renault shares were up 2.2 percent at 64.35 euros, outperforming a 0.7 percent rise in European blue-chip stocks.

(Reporting by Edward Taylor and Gilles Guillaume; Editing by James Regan and Mark Potter)