PARIS — French carmaker Renault said Friday it will cut 15,000 jobs worldwide as part of a 2 billion-euro ($2.2 billion) cost-cutting plan, as a brutal drop in industry sales during the pandemic worsened the company's pre-existing problems.
Renault, which employs 180,000 and is already negotiating a bailout with the French government, said nearly 4,600 jobs will be cut in France and more than 10,000 in the rest of the world over three years.
It will shrink its global production capacity from 4 million vehicles in 2019 to 3.3 million by 2024.
"The difficulties encountered by the group, the major crisis facing the automotive industry and the urgency of the ecological transition are all imperatives that are driving the company to accelerate its transformation," the statement said.
Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard said at a news conference that "each decision, each cost cut has been weighed at length with employees in mind."
Senard said the company will rely on voluntary departures, rather than firings, to meet its targeted cuts and is starting talks with unions.
Renault's leadership is "convinced that these are the right decisions," he said. The COVID-19 crisis "only adds to the emergency of this plan."
The company is suspending plans to increase capacity in Morocco and Romania. It is also considering adapting its facilities in Russia to new products and will stop producing Renault-branded fuel-powered cars in China.
It will close one site in France, in Choisy-le-Roi, in the Paris suburb, which employs about 250 people.
"No to shutdown" read banners unfurled by dozens of workers protesting outside the plant on Friday. Unions organized a temporary walkout.
Renault said it wants to focus its 13 other French sites on "areas with a promising future" including electric vehicles, light commercial vehicles and high value-added innovation.
Fabien Gache, from the CGT union at Renault, expressed concerns over the future of several French plants and denounced what he saw as a "very clear intention to wipe definitively from France vehicle production capacities."
He called for more protests to put pressure on Renault’s leadership.
"Now people are a bit stunned", he said. "We think we will need to find ways to protest and oppose the plan."
Gache said that cuts at Renault would likely lead to many more job losses more widely in the industry among suppliers and equipment manufacturers.
Renault's interim CEO, Clotilde Delbos, said no other factory closure has been decided at this stage in France or abroad.
The new chief executive, Luca de Meo, the former head of Volkswagen’s Seat brand, will provide his "strategic vision" when he starts on July 1, she said.
Renault came into the coronavirus crisis in particularly bad shape: Its alliance with Nissan and Mitsubishi is a major global auto player but has struggled since the 2018 arrest of its longtime star CEO Carlos Ghosn. Nissan said this week that it will close factories in Spain and Indonesia and reported its first losses in years in 2019.
The French government is Renault's single biggest shareholder with a 15% stake, and has been in talks on a 5 billion-euro loan guarantee.
Senard said he expects the government loan guarantee to be formally signed soon. Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire earlier this week that the group’s survival is at stake.
The crisis is not hitting all automakers equally: while Renault is cutting billions in costs, Volkswagen is investing the same sum - 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion) - to expand its presence in China’s electric car industry in the biggest foreign investment announced since the country’s economy began to reopen following the coronavirus pandemic.