Editor's note: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect figure for the size of loan Heuliez's new owners received from the French government.
Struggling French coachbuilder Heuliez will no longer build cars but has a future as a parts supplier, new CEO Francois de Gaillard said.
Heuliez, France's last coachbuilder, had been under bankruptcy protection, but was rescued late June by new owners and a 3 million euros ($3.8 million) loan from the French government.
“I don't think that contract manufacturing -- meaning complete vehicles supplied to OEMs -- has a future,” de Gaillard told Automotive News Europe.
Heuliez will concentrate on supplying stamped parts and subassemblies to automakers and other industry sectors, he said.
“We have a reputation for A-class stamped parts such as doors, roof, trunk lids and fenders, as well as for complete hand-made prototypes. We want to continue offering these to the auto industry, as well as to the rail and aerospace sectors,” de Gaillard said in a phone interview.
In a rescue deal approved by a French bankruptcy court last month, industrial group Baelen Gaillard Industrie (BGI) of France became the sole owner of Heuliez's stamping and body-in-white business.
The German groups Kohl and ConEnergy took a 68.2 percent in Heuliez's electric car division, which it has renamed Mia Electric GmbH. The Poitou-Charentes region, where Heuliez is based, owns the remaining 31.8 percent.
BGI's plans for Heuliez
BGI said it would consolidate Heuliez's bodywork activity with Buisard, a BGI-owned manufacturer of cabins for agricultural, handling and construction machines, which had 32 million euros in revenues last year.
“Our strategy is to consolidate the BGI bodywork activity through the implementation of synergies in purchasing, sales and processes between Buisard and Heuliez,” said de Gaillard, a co-founder of BGI and a former manager of German supplier Webasto, who also worked at Heuliez from 1985 to 1992.
Founded in 1920, Heuliez built niche cars for brands including Citroen, Peugeot, Renault and Opel but it ran into difficulties in 2006 when Opel halved the contracted volume of the Tigra TwinTop two-seat roadster, the only model in production at the company at that time. Tigra production ended in July 2009.
Failed takeover bids
Since 2008, Heuliez has gone through two takeover attempts that failed and two court-supervised bankruptcy protection periods.
In 2008, India's Argentum Motors said it would invest 25 million euros for a 60 percent stake in Heuliez. Argentum abandoned its bid after the global financial crisis put Argentum's coachbuilding business in India under pressure.
Unable to find new funding or new partners, the Queveau family, heirs of the company founder Henri Heuliez, relinquished in April 2009 their entire stake in the business to a French bankruptcy court.
Gerard Queveau, 75, who had served at Heuliez in various posts since joining the company in 1963 and becoming chairman and CEO in 1996, retired in 2008 after signing the agreement with Argentum Motors.
His son Paul, 43, took over his father's role, but at the end of 2009 he left the company. He joined Finnish coachbuilder Valmet in May to work on electric car development.
In July 2009, the French court supervising Heuliez approved a plan by Bernard Krief Consulting (BKC) to restructure Heuliez but the supplier returned to bankruptcy court protection two months ago when BKC did not provide promised financial resources.
New owners BGI will retain 334 jobs at Heuliez while Mia Electric will keep 150 employees. Some 115 jobs will go. Before 2006, Heuliez employed 1,300 people.
Electric car pioneer
Heuliez will supply the steel spaceframe and some other body parts for an electric minivan that Mia Electric plans to build based on the Friendly EV concept unveiled by Heuliez at the 2008 Paris auto show.
Heuliez was a pioneer in electric car production. From 1994, it built about 6,400 EVs for French automakers, such as electric versions of the Citroen AX and Saxo, Peugeot 106 and Renault Clio.
Europe's coachbuilding industry has come under severe pressure from the economic crisis and from automakers building niche models in-house instead of contracting out production.
The creditor banks that control Pininfarina S.p.A. are looking for a buyer for the Italian coachbuilder. Fiat Group Automobiles S.p.A. bought the contract manufacturing arm of Carrozzeria Bertone S.p.A. last year. Volkswagen AG took over over the contract manufacturing business of German coachbuilder Karmann in January.