Bridgestone will owe ‘respect[er] the word given ”, hammered Agnès Pannier-Runacher, Monday, in front of unions and local elected officials. All were gathered for a crisis meeting after the announcement last Wednesday of the closure of the Béthune site, in Pas-de-Calais. “The direction very expressly told us that she was ready to open alternative scenarios ” in order to “to save” the 863 direct jobs threatened, assured the Minister of Industry. But does the government have the means to force the Japanese tire giant to honor its commitments?
SEE ALSO – Agnès Pannier-Runacher ensures that Bridgestone is ready to “reopen alternative scenarios”
The minister has in any case used an unusual means in France to influence the choices of the Japanese group. She recalled in front of the cameras that Speedy, the automotive maintenance and repair brand well known to consumers, has been owned by Bridgestone since 2016. “We must not lose sight of the ‘reputational’ element, she warned. Bridgestone also has a personal business, which is Speedy. I believe that everyone will look with precision at the way this group behaves.»
Could consumers, in solidarity with Bridgestone employees, “sanction” the tire manufacturer by no longer visiting its subsidiary Speedy? Nothing is less certain, assures the Figaro Jean-Pierre Corniou, specialist in the automotive industry. “The consumer is not nationalist to the point of sulking one of the first maintenance brands like Speedy in order to punish Bridgestone”.
According to him, it is the quality / price ratio that takes precedence in his choice: “Whatever the opinion of the government, of influencers, the buyer will try to optimize his own gain. This idea of punishing in the name of the brand and the flag is very archaic and does not respond to the reality of economic life ”, he slices. “We try to transform a productive question into a consumerist question but it does not work”, abounds Bernard Jullien, lecturer in economics at the University of Bordeaux and specialist in the automotive industry. He takes the example of Volkswagen, which the “dieselgate” scandal in 2015 did not prevent, it and its other brands, “To keep a good image” with consumers.
“A gesture that reflects helplessness”
Jean-Pierre Corniou goes even further. For the partner of the consulting firm Sia Partners, it is even a “mistake” than “To point the finger at a company that we need to negotiate a plan to safeguard employment”. A fault that could “Anger the Japanese side” and penalize other players such as the French number 1 in Michelin tires, the victim in return of possible smear campaigns from other countries. “We are in a globalized economy and punishing a tire manufacturer does not make much sense. It is a gesture which expresses an impotence ”, concludes Jean-Pierre Corniou.
On the side of the Minister’s office, without mentioning pressure tactics, it is explained that, Bridgestone having “Talked about possibilities of reclassification in its other activities, beyond reputation issues, it is normal to name them”. Contacted, Speedy did not wish to speak on this subject.