CERIZAY, France - Citroen will stop using French coachbuilder Heuliez to make station wagon versions of its XM and Xantia sedans after April 2002.
PSA/Peugeot-Citroen Chairman Jean-Martin Folz made the decision in December. Heuliez announced the move during this month's Detroit Auto Show. Gerard Queveau, chairman of Groupe Henri Heuliez, was in Detroit searching for new business.
'We were told by PSA: 1/8Find an additional customer,'' said Queveau. 'Today, PSA says it will no longer be our customer for assembling cars.'
Heuliez is in the same situation as another French coachmaker, Matra, which has been dumped by Renault. Both PSA and Renault need to fill their own factories.
Heuliez will continue to build electric car versions of the Citroen Saxo and Peugeot 106. Heuliez has made electric versions of Peugeot 106 and Citroen Saxo since 1995.
Heuliez also will work with PSA on styling studies, mechanical design, prototypes and toolmaking. Heuliez's Turin studio, run by former Bertone designer Marc Deschamps, is working on the three-box version of the Citroen ZX. The new version will be built in China this year.
Last October, Heuliez bid for the sliding side door for the Berlingo commercial van, due to appear at the end of 1998.
Euro Automobiles, Heuliez's car assembly business, has sales of about FF1.9 billion ($310 million). The PSA contract accounted for 75 percent.
'Now we are free to look for new partnerships, including Japanese or Korean makers,' Queveau said. Heuliez had talks with Mazda and Subaru in the early 1990s, but dropped them because of pressure from PSA.
Paul Queveau, 29, Gerard's son and the Groupe Henri Heuliez director responsible for electric vehicles, said Toyota's arrival in France may help.
Toyota plans to start production by 2001. Paul Queveau said a Japanese competitor could be operational at Heuliez in 18 months, beating Toyota.
Since the late 1970s, Heuliez has made a number of Citroen wagons, beginning with the CX. This was followed by the BX, XM and eventually the Xantia.
In 1997, 30,000 Xantia and XM wagons - mostly Xantias - came out of Heuliez's Cerizay plant, 90km southeast of Nantes.
Daily production is now 130 Xantia wagons, 10 XM wagons and four electric 106s and Saxos.
Some 317,000 cars have been made there since the early 1980s, including a convertible Citroen Visa, the Renault 25 limousine and the BX wagon.
Gerard Queveau said the ideal arrangement for his factory would be to manufacture three vehicles, including a luxury car.
'We aim to make vehicles with an output running from 50 to 200-250 units a day,' he said.
Heuliez has 25 designers and model makers in Turin. There are 70 engineers and 70 other employees who specialize in building prototypes and making tools in Le Pin, near Cerizay. The total work force is 2,110.
The company can make a complete car, from drawing board to assembly line. The Xantia wagon, for instance, was designed by Heuliez. Its body parts are stamped in Cerizay and the car is built in the Heuliez's body, paint and assembly shops.