The U.S. government poured over $60 billion into the rescue of General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC, but seems to be maintaining a hands-off attitude in the daily business decisions at the two Detroit automakers.
Yet in France, the opposite is occurring. There, the government is trying to dictate business policy to Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn.
The French state owns 15 percent in Renault. Last February, as a condition of government aid, Renault pledged not to close factories in France for the duration of a 3 billion euro ($4.37 billion) low-interest loan. Now the time for direct government intervention appears to have arrived.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy set up a meeting with Ghosn on Saturday, Jan. 16, over concerns that a new version of Renault's popular Clio subcompact car might be produced only in Turkey and no longer in France.
"We are not putting a lot of money on the table to help our carmakers in order to see all factories go abroad," Sarkozy told legislators at the Elysee Palace, according to Reuters.
Industry Minister Christian Estrosi said the meeting was aimed at finding a new way forward for the carmaker and the French government.
"I want to say very clearly that we would not be well-disposed towards a decision to have the Clio 4 mainly produced in Turkey," Estrosi told Reuters last week after meeting Renault's COO, Patrick Pelata. "Decisions will come from the meeting that reflect the choices that the president of the republic, as a shareholder of the Renault group, will impose upon them."
On Jan. 16, Sarkozy grilled top managers of Renault and won a promise that some Clio production will remain in France. This could be just a first step in the growing influence France wants to have in running Renault.
Estrosi said the government is ready to increase its Renault stake to up to 20 percent as "a psychological way to make them (Renault) understand that we don't intend to just let the industrial auto strategy of France runs its course without reacting."
The tone takes us back to 1945, when Renault was nationalized under the new name of Regie Nationale des Usines Renault.
But the automaker was privatized in 1996. And indeed those who own the remaining 85 percent of its shares would prefer that business decisions are made on a purely business level.