End clap for Bridgestone in France? The Japanese manufacturer, present in Béthune (Pas-de-Calais) since 1961, announced on Wednesday that it had made the decision to close its only French factory by next year. According to our information, probably “from the month of April”. 863 employees are concerned. Blame it on the Covid crisis? Not even.
“The difficulties unfortunately date from long before, at least several years, confides a source close to the management. And they are structural. “In question: an overcapacity of production of the group which weighs on all of its ten European factories. So in Béthune, but also in Bari (Italy), Burgos (Spain), Poznan (Poland) and Tatabanya (Hungary).
A production tool unsuited to the SUV boom
The production tool would also no longer be adapted to changes in demand. Indeed, Béthune manufactures small size tires (LRD), while the SUV boom (40% of global sales, including in France), has shifted demand to larger tires (HRD). “It would have been necessary to invest huge sums, admits the same source. It was not the will of the group. “Asian competition, with price wars, has gone through this. And caused considerable damage in the area.
Criticism was quick to come, especially from local elected officials and politicians. The president of the Hauts-de-France regional council Xavier Bertrand, like the government, denounced a “betrayal” during a “crisis meeting” at the town hall of Béthune. While the mayor Olivier Gacquerre referred to him as a “humiliation”. The Minister Delegate to the Minister of the Economy, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, for her part contests “the brutality and the foundations of such a decision”. “It is unacceptable that Bridgestone abandons the game without having fought for alternative solutions”, she declared.
“They did not grab any outstretched hand”
The manufacturer has benefited from several public support mechanisms in recent years. “There was no loan guaranteed by the state,” says one in the entourage of the minister. But Bridgestone nevertheless had recourse during the confinement to partial activity for its employees. And used in the past the device of the CICE (Editor’s note: the tax credit for competitiveness and employment, abolished in 2019). »For what amount? Information is unfortunately covered by tax secrecy.
Employees are “in shock”. “We knew that things were not going well, but we did not expect something so heavy, deplores Fabrice Boudard, Force Ouvrière delegate of the factory. I’ve been working here for 23 years. We had warned that we had to make investments to produce bigger tires. Toyota, for example, was a buyer. They didn’t want to hear anything. Other employees evoke a “dishonest strategy” on the part of management. “They have invested more than a million euros for the clean-up of the site, says one of them, non-union. This is a necessary condition for its closure. Everything was already programmed. “
“Both the State and the region, everyone has been well aware of the site’s difficulties for some time,” continues the cabinet of Agnès Pannier-Runacher. But what they are criticized for is not having activated any of the devices that could have enabled them to mobilize the industrial tool. They did not grab any outstretched hand. They also do not intend to take advantage of the many possibilities offered by the stimulus package. The minister has planned to meet representatives of employees and elected officials of the territory “from the beginning of next week”.