PARIS - Matra Automobile could be spun off by its parent company, Lagardère Groupe, through a listing on the Paris stock exchange.
The spin-off option, which could happen in 2002, was unveiled by Lagardère Chairman Jean-Luc Lagardère during the company's recent annual shareholder meeting. Matra designed and makes the Espace minivan for Renault.
The main condition for the spin-off is for Matra Automobile to find at least two, and ideally three, new models to make. Production of the highly profitable Espace will end at Matra's Romorantin plant in mid-2002, when Renault will begin making the Espace's successor at its Sandouville plant.
Matra Automobile made 70,600 Espaces in 1999, with sales of A1.14 billion and operating profits of A70 million. It has 3,300 employees. 712,000 Espaces were made from 1984 to 1999.
Matra will start production of Renault's futuristic Avantime coupe early 2001. But with a daily output of 60 units, it alone cannot replace the Espace.
'We are preparing two projects for the future,' said Philippe Guedon, Matra Automobile chairman. 'One is scheduled for late 2001, the other for 2003.'
The first, a small two-seat roadster, is due to be unveiled at the Paris auto show in October 2000 and likely will be branded Matra. The second one might be a top-of-the-range minivan and will be proposed to a big carmaker.
'We want to keep production at between 350 and 400 units per day,' said Guedon. 'The best solution would consist of making three models, with 120 units each.'
The spin-off would mean that Lagardère would retain a minority stake in Matra's capital.
'I don't think Renault would be interested in becoming a shareholder,' said Guedon. 'It would be contradictory to our purpose to have several customers. However, we wish to keep Renault as our main customer.'
Guedon thinks that some big suppliers and Matra managers could invest in the new business.