in a garage in the Vendée, customers rumble and the car industry falters

This article is part of our “Les focuses de franceinfo” operation, which highlights key topics that were not widely covered in the presidential campaign: housing costs, the crisis in the public hospital, the taboo on mental health and the CO2 footprint of transport.

He bursts into the workshop with a big smile, unusual in such circumstances. Victim of a collision after a motorist denied priority, the customer called the mechanic. It must have a new wheel housing. The wheel has suffered, but he is happy to be there. He is 69 years old and is none other than Daniel You, the former head of this garage in Les Herbiers (Vendée), which he founded in 1976 and which bears his name. Ten years after the transfer, the retiree still appears to have enough juice to restart a dead battery. He is nurtured by the pride of seeing his old company survive him.

In this corner of the Vendée bocage, far from the coast and major city centers, the car is perceived as a basic necessity. In Les Herbiers and in the surrounding towns (30,000 inhabitants), half of the households have two vehicles, according to the latest official figures. “We have an unemployment rate of 4.1%, one of the lowest in France. Everyone needs their car to get to work”, justifies the various right-wing mayors, Véronique Besse. The four-wheeled engine would even be an identity marker, according to this close friend of the sovereign Philippe de Villiers.

“The Vendée is very independent, he likes his freedom and therefore his car.”

Véronique Besse, various right-wing mayors of Les Herbiers

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Under the shed in the garage You, however, we begin to cough. Activity is good, but the thermobile sees its reign challenged. Too expensive, too polluting, it is slowly becoming obsolete and must make room for other more virtuous modes of transportation. “Small garages, we are bad”, slips the only employee, Benoît Villeneuve, 35 years. The problems have already begun.

Daniel You arrives to order a new wheel housing in his old garage on March 21, 2022. (PIERRE MOREL / FRANCEINFO)

“Happy customers like Daniel, you do not see them every day”smiles Fabien Danard, who in 2008 took over the garage from his boss. “In general, people do not like to come to us”, confirms Stéphanie Danard, his wife, who runs the administration. Nothing personal, just a matter of budget. Since the advent of electronics, the aces of mechanics have lost their magic, and invoices have taken on. “We hardly repair anymore, we replace”apologizes to the couple in their forties, in the front line for meeting customer reactions.

“People come to my house and make faces. ‘It’s expensive’, ‘I’m tired of seeing you’ … In the long run it’s exhausting.”

Fabien Danard, manager of the You garage

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While the mechanic is repairing a Volkswagen Polo that has been rescued from the scrap yard, the mechanic looks in the rearview mirror. “Until the 1990s, customers were less fussy. If you wanted a car, you would look past, we looked around a bit and topped it off. It was the good old days that were purchasing power. Now for the slightest odds. And finally, it’s a treat. The car will be a luxury product. ”

Stéphanie Danard welcomes a customer, Sophie, on March 22, 2022. (PIERRE MOREL / FRANCEINFO)

An old Golf adorns the hall in the garage, March 22, 2022. (PIERRE MOREL / FRANCEINFO)

Sophie is sitting on a yellow leather armchair in the hall waiting to pick her up volkswagen Golf. “Apparently the tire valve would be punctured”she explained hesitantly and stepped inside. “Usually it’s my husband who manages it, but he works. The car, it does not interest me. For me it is a money hole.” There is no question of letting go of the car. “I need it to drop off my kids and get to work on timeexplains the 35-year-old client. I could do it on foot, we are in the city center, but we had to get up even earlier. ”

“I chose the facility over the exemplar.”

Sophie, Garage You could

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Her husband, he is passionate about mechanics and speed, is one of those who shows their success at the wheel of beautiful cars. “The car remains a prestigious object, comments Fabien Danard. I always have customers who prefer to have a big car and eat potatoes all week. “

A white Audi stops in front of the garage. The driver goes to the workshop for an engine light problem as he has just bought this sedan used. “I stayed on diesel as it uses less and I travel 110km a day to go to work, explains Christopher, a 35-year-old special education teacher. I would like to go for electricity or hybrid, but it’s too expensive. “

“With rising fuel prices, I, like other colleagues, began to look for work closer to home.”

Christopher, your garage customer

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Among the customers, several have taken the plunge with the electric. Cyril is paying 24,500 euros for a used Peugeot e-208, which he explains, while the mechanic graciously patches his trailer for him. “We have made this choice in relation to the price of fuel and for ecological reasons”defends this professor of SVT, in front of Daniel You, who remained in the area, not convinced.

“I had it for 40 euros a month at the pump. With electricity, it will cost me 7 euros to recharge a month.

– Yes, but how long does your battery last? You have an eight-year warranty, so what? Electricity, I do not believe in that. “

Fabien Danard repairs a wheel on a trailer that threatened to fall, on March 21, 2022, in front of the You garage.  (PIERRE MOREL / FRANCEINFO)

In her glazed office, Stéphanie Danard sees disoriented motorists pass by. “People no longer know whether to buy a petrol, a diesel, a bioethanol kit … We just know we can not afford to switch to an electric car for ourselves.” The managers, who live 20 km away, stick to their old diesel engines, one per. Together with their 16 and 18-year-old boys, they now have four cars at home.

With a smile glued to his face, Benoît Villeneuve grabs a paper towel and wipes his forehead. The first rays of spring heat the roof of the workshop. Oil change break before much of the afternoon: Replacing the bonnet and bumper of a vehicle that crashed into a planter. In the radio, between two songs, a car commercial ends with one of the terms now imposed on the manufacturers: “For short trips, prefer walking or cycling.”

The mechanic, who loves bicycles, would step well on the pedals to work, a dozen miles from his home. “But the road is an old national, a long straight line of trucks sucking you in. It’s too dangerous.”

“If I lived in the city, it’s clear I did not want a car. Driving a car is not a pleasure for me.”

Benoît Villeneuve, employed in the garage You

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He has been passionate about mechanics since his first bike, switching to scooters as a 14-year-old and cars as an 18-year-old, the 30-year-old estimates. “outdated” the cultivation of the car as a sign of wealth and virility. “Besides, tuning, we no longer see it here. The car is less and less an entertainment expense.” Some of his friends have taken carpooling. Hi m expect safe bike paths.

Benoît Villeneuve, mechanic in the You garage, performs an oil change on a car, March 21, 2022. (PIERRE MOREL / FRANCEINFO)

A jogger runs in front of the garage on March 21, 2022. (PIERRE MOREL / FRANCEINFO)

Listening to cyclists’ hopes, the Pays des Herbiers community plans to invest around € 400,000 a year until 2030 to build more bike paths. In May, a long-term rental service for electric bicycles will also be launched, which will give residents the opportunity to test this mode of transport before a possible subsidy purchase. The potential is great: 60% of local workers work at the inter-municipal level. Among them, almost everyone travels by car, alone on board, while the distances traveled are often accessible by bicycle.

“There’s a change in thinking about cycling that also represents a health asset.”

Véronique Besse, President of the Community of Pays des Herbiers

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Convinced of that “the car’s heyday is over”, the environmental opposition welcomes these advances. It also supports the project to reopen the local station, which could resume operations as far as Cholet (Maine-et-Loire) in a few years, with a stop at the famous Puy-du-Fou park near Les Herbiers. On the other hand, she regrets the right-wing majority’s refusal to consider establishing a city bus network. “Smaller Vendée towns like Luçon or Fontenay-le-Comte have entered it”emphasizes Joseph Liard, elected from the left.

What place for you garage in this future landscape? “In twelve years it’s over, I’m retiring if I can”, warns Fabien Danard. This enthusiast of old cars will blow out his 60 candles just before the announced ban on the sale of new thermal vehicles in the EU, planned for 2035. Until then, it is not certain that he will follow the electrification of the car fleet, synonymous large investments for garage owners.

In its early days, the You garage fascinated. At the entrance, a car was sitting on a turntable, “as in the living rooms”. Now three old collectibles sleep on the tile floor next to a worn piano and vintage decorations. The workshop radio is tuned to Nostalgia. The great hall is already taking in the air of a museum.

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