To be Europe’s most efficient facility”, the ambitions of site manager Christophe Montavon

Site modernisation, downsizing, use of temporary workers, contact with subcontractors: Christophe Montavon, boss of the historic Peugeot factory in Doubs, agreed to answer our questions and discuss the future. Stellantis group, ex PSA. INTERVIEW.

His speech is rare, so his words are valuable. Christophe Montavon has been running the Stellantis group’s historic factory in the former PSA in Sochaux since spring 2021. Originally from Franc-Comtois, he was previously production manager.

Sochaux is in the middle of restructuring with the launch of a new and unique assembly line on which the 3008 and 5008 will be mounted.

As part of the industry-dedicated Enquêtes de Region program published in France 3 Bourgogne and France 3 Franche- County on April 7, 2022, Christophe Montavon welcomes us at the heart of a workshop full of brand new equipment. An exclusive interview to be found in full here.

You manage the Stellantis Sochaux factory. This is Peugeot’s historic factory. Vehicles have been produced here since 1912. The site has been quite modernized in recent months with the Sochaux 2022 project. What is it?

You see this all around us: the factory has completely changed. We have invested more than 200 million Euros to transform the site, making it a very compact, very efficient and super flexible factory. It is now a factory where we can manufacture thermal vehicles, hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles of tomorrow.

Is everything that can be automated automated?

Number. To be honest, we automate only what is interesting to automate: it makes it possible to eliminate the most painful tasks for operators, but also eliminates what is economically profitable. There are processes that can be automated, but we don’t see the point of doing that. The tasks we automate mainly are ergonomically very difficult tasks as well as logistical tasks.

Huge workforce reductions are behind us

Christopher Montavon

Manager of the Stellantis factory in Sochaux

Stellantis, the group that emerged from the PSA – Fiat Chrysler merger, has 14 brands and factories all over the world. Why bet on Sochaux? Is it just the weight of history?

Indeed, Sochaux is a historic factory of the group, the cradle of the Peugeot brand. Symbolic and very powerful. At the same time, it is the quality of the people working in the factory that has increased in recent years. Therefore, it would not be a trivial choice if we were to transform the Sochaux region to make it one of the symbols of Stellantis.

How many employees does Stellantis Sochaux have?

Today we have about 7,000 employees, 900 of whom are temporary workers.

There were 40,000 employees in the late 1970s and 18,000 in the early 2000s. Does this mean that the factory of tomorrow in France will necessarily be one with fewer employees?

Factory of tomorrow, here we are. We really took a step towards the future. In fact, compared to factories 15, 20 or 30 years ago, there are far fewer people in the industry overall. It’s not specific to cars. Now, we’re reaching levels – I won’t say maximum staff discounts – but we’re on a plateau and the big staff discounts are behind us.

You will still prepare a voluntary departure plan: 2,300 voluntary departures will be planned at the national level over the next two years.

The departures are not Sochaux’s business, but for the entire group. So yes, we continue to have voluntary exits to accompany this drop, but this drop is much more measured than we’ve done in the past.

You said that there are currently 900 temporary workers at the Sochaux site. Why so many temporary workers? Why not hire them because it’s precarious?

Insecurity or flexibility, we call it what we want. You must be conscious. We face a market that fluctuates tremendously due to demand and dangers such as Covid-19 or the semiconductor crisis. Having a few temporary workers on site makes it possible to have this flexibility and a place to protect all Stellantis employees.

Semiconductors are those little electronic chips you find everywhere now. There are supply difficulties. Is it an illusion to control your entire spare parts supply chain? The world has gone global and can’t we bring everything back to France?

The world has become global, that’s for sure. Now nothing is impossible. We learned a lot during this crisis. Within Stellantis, we have established several strategic partnerships, including one with Foxconn recently. The idea is to be able to manufacture up to 80% of our chips to be a little more independent and more autonomous in the future.

Does this mean that crises like the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have taught us to be less dependent on foreign countries?

We always tend to say “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”. We learn in all crises. To deal with the shortcomings. to rearrange. Find new resources. To be even more agile. The will of Stellantis and we will achieve it is to come out of this crisis stronger.

In this performance race, we train our subcontractors together with us.

Christopher Montavon

Manager of the Stellantis factory in Sochaux

We’re used to saying, “When the PSA gets a cold, the whole Franche-Comté coughs.” Do you feel a responsibility towards the hundreds of subcontractors you employ and the thousands of jobs connected to them?

It’s a shared responsibility. We want to be humble: we employ others, we work with others, Region, agglomeration, our partners, subcontractors… in our environment, car production is possible. Sochaux’s success is also the success of the District, all of our subcontractors and the temporary worker agents we mentioned earlier.

Some automotive suppliers, such as the MBF foundry in Saint-Claude, are in distress and going bankrupt. Stellantis is essential. Is the economy the only criterion? Aren’t you once again responsible for these things?

The responsibility of the group, and especially of Sochaux, is to provide visibility for years to come. The whole transformation of the site is precisely to be as efficient as possible. We have a goal, we will not hide it, to be the most efficient factory in Europe. This makes it possible to gain visibility into the site and its employees for 10, 15 or even 20 years, while giving visibility to most of the subcontractors in the area. Of course, to do this you need to be as efficient as possible, and that’s why we’re including our subcontractors in this performance race with us, with one goal: to be sustainable for as long as possible.

Can you tell us today: “There are still many good years ahead of this Sochaux factory”?

Great years, that’s for sure. We are at the beginning of a new adventure. We turn a page: We turn off the old system to concentrate 100% in this new assembly shop. We have an important place in the strategic plan presented by Mr. Tavares, dare 2030 with electrification of the range. Our goal in Europe is to have 100% electrification. A large part of it will pass through Sochaux, as we will produce the new 3008 and new 5008, which are replacements for the vehicles we produce today that will be available in hybrid and electric versions.

Does this mean that cars will be produced on this site for a long time to come?

It’s a certainty. I won’t commit for 50 years because I don’t have a crystal ball but in the next 10-15 years there is nothing to worry about for the Sochaux site.