Renault: behind the scenes of its used car factory

At the end of the huge workshop with impeccable walls and floor, David is working on the deformed trunk of the black Megane that has just arrived in its place. This time it gives him a lot of trouble. After dismantling the plastic structure of the cabin, it fails to impact with its practical wand, using the so-called “smart repair” technique, which consists of deforming once without breaking the paint. Nothing to do, you have to rely on the good old chisel and call the reinforcement Saliou, an experienced bodybuilder …

You almost have to pinch to believe it, but we are indeed in a car repair shop, more precisely a refurbishment, with the futuristic name of Factory VO (used vehicle), in the heart of the historic factory of Renault, in Flins (Yvelines). This space for used vehicles is just one of the many aspects of the vast program, known as ReFactory, for the rehabilitation of this industrial site, which Renault wants to turn into a center of innovation around the circular economy.

No less than ten projects have been launched in Flins, “which is, in fact, the largest test area for the automotive sector in Europe,” says Jean-Philippe Billai, director of the plant and its program. Flins is now a place of testing and experiments with batteries, reconditioned cars, recycling … All this should lead to new skills ”. Launched without a quantified goal, the project is part of Renaulution’s development and research plan, initiated by CEO Lucas de Meo in early 2021 to redirect the group’s priorities in the field of new mobility in 2030.

If Flins has positioned itself in the innovation segment with reconditioning, it is also to respond to a decline that has been taking place for several years. Production lines, which still employed 23,000 people in the 1990s, no longer have 3,500 today. And the Zoe, the 100% electric model produced here, is in its final year before being replaced by the future “zero-emission” R5, which will leave the Douai chains in the north. Then it will be the turn of the Nissan Micra to retire in 2024.

No more new vehicles will leave the Flins factory in two years. “We ended up with a disproportionate place,” says Gilles Mériadec, head of the commercial part of Factory VO. This forced us to think about reconverting all these 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 achieve a long-term turnover of 1 billion euros. It should be noted that the used car market is booming, with increases of more than 40% last year. But in the immediate future, what interests Gilles Mériadec is “the laboratory side, where we develop all kinds of processes and standards”.

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And take as a witness the intervention of the bodybuilder we just witnessed: “This is exactly what we intended to do with our reconditioning workshop: to gather and gather several skills in one place.” Cars pass here in the hands of mechanics, bodybuilder cosmetics or barns, like David. A multitude of trades, old and new, gathered in the same industrial area.

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

But can this model be applied on an industrial scale? At the beginning of the project, Factory VO was used as a large-scale test to answer this question. The whole organization was developed from a blank sheet. In this unprecedented form of industrial subcontracting in the service of dealers, the route of the vehicle was built from diagnosis to quality control, through mechanics, intelligent repair, bodywork and cosmetics. Not to mention, before leaving, the photo for the retailer.

To conduct the experiment, employees were asked to designate the positions they would like to occupy. “We have repatriated the trades of our dealer network to the factory,” said Sylvie Dugenest, the site’s human resources manager. work and new skills. .

This is the case of Emre, a Renault blouse on his shoulders and safety shoes on his feet, who plays with the tablet to enter the different points of the diagnosis he has just made. At the age of 28, he has been working at the site since 2015. When he learned of the possibility of training in diagnosis with professionals, this graduate with a professional baccalaureate in automotive did not hesitate: “It is a much more interesting job than the chain factory, he gets carried away.Here you have the feeling of really working in the car, not just in a part of the process.

However, their enthusiasm was not always shared within the teams. “When we started talking about the ecosystem, the circular economy and industrial innovation, employees were looking at us with wide-open eyes and it was understandable,” says Sylvie Dugenest. Our obsession was to go quickly to finalize the project and convince them to follow us. Therefore, a website was opened in the spring to allow candidate employees to access job descriptions. No training is required to apply for it and the number of applications is not limited and each candidate is interviewed. The aim is to encourage as many employees as possible to get involved in the project. So far, 180 people have joined the Factory VO reconditioning workshop.

Sylvie Dugenest does not hide her satisfaction with the new organization in her office a few hundred yards from the factory. “We’ve been able to target and fire employees according to their potential and profiles,” she says proudly. It also praises the internally developed application that measures intervention times, coordinates, then files stages and reconditioning tasks, and finally manages 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 distributors in Ile-de-France. To clear their garages, which are often small, you need to take care of the car very quickly and make an immediate diagnosis “, adds Gilles Mériadec. Meanwhile, Emre, still staring at his machine, has just completed his diagnosis. The quote arrives instantly at the dealer’s mailbox.

The order book changes almost in real time. “In the industrial model, uncertainty is in principle completely excluded. There, it is inherent in the organization, you need to know how to manage it and face new problems every day. It’s a new way of thinking, “says Sylvie Dugenest. Traditionally unobtrusive to the comments of its customers, the plant also sees its raison d’être evolve. “This commitment to the circular economy has allowed us to solve many problems of after-sales service and reliability of our new vehicles,” says Fabien Duclot, responsible for the industrial aspect of the project, but also to better understand the customer and their expectations. . “

Flins is thus transformed into a strategic observatory of product sustainability for the whole group. An experience that is developed both in the knowledge of vehicle parts and in quality standards. One of the mechanical maintenance workers, Christophe, confirms this in his own words: “We learn every day. Our skills are evolving with the wear and tear of cars! “

The industrial organization of the workshop, which requires the repetition of gestures, allows, instead, the operators to better master the know-how that they would practice more punctually in the garage. “We train and maintain this experience ourselves on site,” says the HRD. During the break, Christophe was checking the brake pads on a Twingo he had been working on for almost forty-five minutes. and small talk groups are formed near the windows, in fact it is a new life that has begun in Flins.

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