Renault: behind the scenes at its used car factory

At the end of the huge workshop with immaculate walls and floor, David knuckles over the deformed suitcase of the black Megane who has just arrived at his post. This bump gives him a lot of trouble. After disassembling the plastic structure in the cabin, he does not succeed in reaching the collision with his practical rod by using the so-called “smart repair” technique, which consists of deforming a bump without cracking the paint. Nothing to do, he will have to rely on the good old chisel and summon reinforcement Saliou, an experienced bodybuilder …

You almost have to pinch yourself to believe it, but we are actually in an auto repair shop, more precisely for renovation, with the futuristic name Factory VO (for used vehicles), in the heart of the historic Renault factory, in Flins (Yvelines) . This space for used vehicles is just one of the many aspects of the comprehensive program, known as ReFactory, for the rehabilitation of this industrial space, which Renault wants to make a center of innovation around the circular economy.

No less than ten projects have thus seen the light of day in Flins, «which is in fact the largest test area for the car sector in Europe, assures Jean-Philippe Billai, director of the plant and This program. Flins is now a place where you can test and experiment with batteries, refurbished cars, recycling … All this should give rise to new skills. “Launched without a quantified goal, the project is part of the Renaulution development and research plan, initiated by CEO Lucas de Meo in early 2021 to redirect the group’s priorities in new mobility by 2030.

If Flins has positioned itself in the innovation segment with renovation, it is also to respond to a decline that has been underway for several years. The production lines, which still employed 23,000 people in the 1990s, no longer have 3,500 today. And Zoé, the 100% electric model produced here, is living its final year before being replaced by the future “zero-emission” R5, which will come out of the chains in Douai in the north. Then it’s Nissan Micra’s turn to buck up in 2024.

In two years, no more new vehicles will leave the Flins factory. “We ended up with a disproportionately large place,” says Gilles Mériadec, head of the commercial part of Factory VO. This forced us to think about converting all those workshops that were no longer used for production. “

For the rehabilitation part, led by Gilles Mériadec and reserved for resale by the brand’s dealers, Renault plans to reach a turnover of 1 billion euros in the long term. It must be said that the used vehicle market is booming with increases of more than 40% last year. But in the near future, what interests Gilles Mériadec above all is “the laboratory side, where we develop all kinds of processes and standards”.

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And to witness the bodybuilder’s intervention, which we have just witnessed: “That’s exactly what we were looking to do with our renovation workshop: to gather and gather more skills in one place.” The cars pass here in the hands of the mechanics, to the cosmetics of the bodybuilders or grainmakers, like David. A wealth of professions, old and new, gathered in the same industrial space.

In all the other autonomous units born in these disused hangars, the teams operate in project form and seek to open up to external partners, “institutions, universities or specialized companies, as the case may be,” explains Jean-Philippe Billai. An operation inspired by start-ups.

But can this model be used on an industrial scale? At the start of the project, Factory VO was used as a full-scale test to answer this question. The whole organization was developed from a blank sheet. In this unprecedented form of industrial subcontracting at the service of dealers, the vehicle’s journey was built from diagnostics to quality control, including mechanics, smart repair, bodywork and cosmetics. Without forgetting before leaving, the image intended for the dealer.

To perform the experiment, employees were asked to designate the positions they would like to fill. “We have repatriated trades from our dealer network to the factory,” explains Sylvie Dugenest, the site’s chief of staff, by reorienting the technicians who should lose their jobs with the cessation of new vehicle production, towards new jobs and new skills.

This is the case with Emre, Renault blouse on the shoulders and safety shoes on the feet, which press on his tablet to enter the various points of the diagnosis he has just completed. As a 28-year-old, he has been working at the site since 2015. When he heard about the possibility of training in diagnostics with professionals, this graduate with a professional automotive bachelor did not hesitate: “It’s a much more interesting job than the chain factory, he get carried away.Here you have the feeling of really working on the car, not just on part of the process.

But his enthusiasm was not always shared within the teams. “When we started talking about the ecosystem, the circular economy and industrial innovation, the employees looked at us with big eyes, and that was understandable,” says Sylvie Dugenest. Our obsession was to go fast to make the project more concrete and convince them to follow us. In the spring, therefore, a website was launched that gives graduate employees access to job descriptions. To apply, no education is required and the number of applications is not limited and each candidate is interviewed. The goal is to encourage as many employees as possible to get involved in the project. To date, 180 people have joined the Factory VO renovation workshop.

In her office, located a few hundred meters from the factory, Sylvie Dugenest does not hide her satisfaction with the new organization. “We have managed to inform and send employees according to their potential and their profiles,” she says proudly. It also praises the internally developed application, which measures intervention times, coordinates, then archives the stages and renovation tasks, and finally controls the flow of spare parts.

The system, close to zero paper, aims more to facilitate the work of the teams and simplify the administrative part than to save time. “The challenge is to respond quickly to the needs of our dealers in Ile-de-France. In order to close their garages, which are often cramped, you have to grab the car very quickly and provide an immediate diagnosis,” adds Gilles Mériadec, meanwhile, Emre, still riveted to his machine, has just completed his diagnosis, and the offer lands in the dealer’s mailbox immediately.

The order book changes almost in real time. “In the industrial model, uncertainty is in principle totally excluded. There is something inherent in the organization, one must know how to manage it and face new problems every day. It’s a new way of thinking, ”analyzes Sylvie Dugenest. Traditionally a bit confronted with feedback from its customers, the factory also sees its raison d’être develop. “This commitment to the circular economy has enabled us to solve a lot of after-sales service and reliability issues on our new vehicles,” notes Fabien Duclot, head of the industrial aspect of the project, but also to better understand the customer and his expectations.

Flins is thus transformed into a strategic observatory for product sustainability for the entire group. An expertise that develops both on knowledge of vehicle parts and on quality standards. One of the mechanical maintenance operators, Christophe, confirms this in his own words: “We learn every day. Our skills develop with the wear and tear of the cars! ”

The industrial organization of the workshop, which forces the repetition of movements, on the other hand, allows the operators to better master the know-how that they would practice more occasionally in the garage. “This expertise, which we train and maintain ourselves on site, comments on HRD further. It lowers production costs, but also makes sense for the technicians who have the means to work meticulously.” In fact, when the bell rang for the break, Christophe checked the brake pads on a Twingo he had been working on for almost forty-five minutes, moving on to wheel covers a little later. small discussion groups are formed near the windows.It is truly a new life that has begun in Flins.

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