Governments have a patchy record when it comes to getting involved in the car industry. There have been a couple of successful bailouts of Chrysler (the recent one and another at the beginning of the 1980s) by the US government, which saw the car maker recover and pay back its state loans ahead of time.
Britain, by contrast, has an appalling record, from the ill-fated creation of British Leyland to using state subsidies to insist on car factories being built in unemployment blackspots, with predictably disastrous results. Much the same happened in Italy, when the government insisted state-owned Alfa Romeo build a new factory in the impoverished south of the country.
Even, in the last couple of years, when Jaguar Land Rover went to the government for a loan during the credit crunch, ministers insisted on having a say on future strategy. JLR, wisely, turned them down.So, with such a poor record of intervention, I was amazed to read reports that the French government has insisted that Renault boss Carlos Ghosn ensures that Renault makes the development of new upmarket models a ‘priority’.
Admittedly, the French government still has a 15 per cent stake in the car maker, but reports suggest that ministers have used Ghosn’s recent managerial disaster to force Renault into making concrete plans for the replacement of the Laguna and Espace and perhaps even the Vel Satis.