at Renault-Flins, the car gets a second life

Opened in 1952, the Renault factory in Flins-sur-Seine (Yvelines) becomes septuagenarian this year. But 2022 also marks the two years of the launch of its conversion into a factory focused on the circular economy, “the largest in Europe” in its field, in the words of Jean-Dominique Senard, President of the Renault group.

The Flins site knows that it will only owe its durability to its ability to make new out of old: from the first quarter of 2024, no new vehicle will leave the factory, which has seen 20 flagships of the firm pass through diamond, including the Dauphine, the 4L, the Renault 5 or the Twingo. Thirty years ago, it produced 400,000 vehicles a year. Currently, its daily activity is limited to 360 Renault Zoe and Nissan Micra, as well as parts manufactured for other factories of the group.

Disrupted supply

Because now is the time to promote the second life of cars, their spare parts and other components. An even more topical objective since two years ago, global supply chains were turned upside down by Covid-19 and more recently by the war in Ukraine. On October 11, Stellantis (ex-PSA) also took a similar direction by describing the “four Rs” of its global strategy: reconditioning cars, repairing and reusing parts, recycling production waste and vehicles end of life.

Where are the four poles of the Renault-Flins site, called Refactory, on the Renault side? First there is Re-trofit, the flagship, which refurbishes damaged vehicles sent by dealerships. To this end, the 200 employees of the Re-trofit team go through the vehicle with a fine-toothed comb with 80 checkpoints, from deep scratches to stamped bumpers. Once the diagnosis has been established, the repair stage only takes, assures Renault, 6 to 8 days, on the same site, against 21 in a conventional repair circuit – requiring transfers from one service provider to another.

130 refurbished

Today, 130 cars come out “like new” every day. By the end of this year, 20,000 vehicles will have been reconditioned in this way, the ambition being to reach 45,000 vehicles per year by 2030. For this, the workers have all received training of up to thirty- five weeks for certain trades.

The vehicles are then put back on sale in the dealerships. A good way to be present on the second-hand market, which is attracting more and more customers as the shortage of components slows down the production of new vehicles and drives up prices.

It is also at the Re-trofit pole that, since this summer, Renault Group and the start-up Phoenix Mobility, which has become Tolv, have been developing a kit for converting thermal light commercial vehicles into electric ones. An activity still in the test phase, like many projects launched within Refactory.

Batteries and hydrogen

As for Re-energy, the second pole of Refactory, it works in particular to offer a second life to the batteries of electric vehicles. When their capacity becomes insufficient for automotive use, they are used to develop a generator that can act as a generator.

But in order not to limit itself to electricity, Renault Group has also joined forces with Plug Power, a pioneer in hydrogen in the United States. Based in Flins, their joint venture Hyvia is launching into hydrogen for utility vehicles offered to professionals. Since the spring, the plant has been assembling fuel cells with a capacity of 1,000 units per year. And by the end of the year, it will do the same for charging stations.

Lines at full speed

The third division of Refactory, Re-cycle, includes activities transferred from the Choisy-le-Roi site (Val-de-Marne), which has been permanently closed. On the program: renovation of mechanical and mechatronic parts, by collecting heat engines, mechanical gearboxes or on-board systems from the commercial network… These parts are then reintroduced into the network with the certificate “of an equal level of quality and a cost reduced by 40%”.

In the end, 92% of the material collected is reused to give life to a new mechanical part. “These reconditioning lines are now running at full speed in Flins”assures Jean-Philippe Bahuaud, Renault Group vice-president in charge of the circular economy and the Refactory.

But 900 part references can also be reused or recycled. This is where GAIA, the recycling subsidiary of the Renault Group, comes in, which recovers parts from cars that have already been dismantled or end-of-series spare parts. Once reconditioned in Flins, they are marketed for export.

Finally, the fourth pole, Re-start, is devoted to research and innovation in the field of circular economy. In particular, there are activities around the Re-trofit of the means of production, an innovation center, a 3D printing center and a prototype production center.

Duplicate model

From the first steps of Refactory, the general manager of Renault, Luca de Meo ensured that the Yvelin site was committed “in a profitable business” (The cross of December 2, 2021). Renault has set a target of 200 million euros in revenue by 2025 for all Refactory activities.

Today, 800 employees are assigned to it in Flins, out of the 2,100 holders. By 2030, the goal is for Refactory to employ 3,000 people. The factory has already set up a night shift, to operate in three shifts.

And Renault believes so much in its model that it is deploying it in Seville in Spain and other sites are being studied internationally. Because it is a question of acting as closely as possible, so as not to deteriorate the carbon footprint of the group. Thus, only vehicles from dealerships located within a maximum radius of 300 km are transported to Flins-sur-Seine – by fully loaded trucks.

To increase its volumes, the factory prefers to open its doors to other brands and already welcomes Toyota and Stellantis. At the end of 2023, it will expand to fleets and insurance companies for which it will take charge of heavily damaged vehicles. This new center will repair 3,000 vehicles in the first year, then 25,000 in 2025.

To accelerate its trajectory, Renault has just announced the creation of a subsidiary. Objective: to support the development of the circular economy among all automotive players.


The poorly oriented car market in Europe

theMotor Showwhich starts this Monday, October 17 in Paris, takes place in a gloomy context for the sector in Europe.

In June 2022, new car registrations in the European Union fell by 15% compared to June 2021, and by 14% in the first half of the year. The new car market has shrunk by nearly 30% since the Covid crisis.

Almost all manufacturers fall : Stellantis (-21.09%), Volkswagen (-25.58%), Renault (-16.63%), Toyota (-19%) or Ford (-9.99%). Only two brands stand out: Dacia (+ 2.69%) and Hyundai-Kia (+ 3.72%).

The lack of raw materials, intermediate products and semiconductors massively curbs the production of new cars. Over the next few months, the availability of new cars will therefore remain limited, their prices high and delivery times still long.

(Source: ACEA and EY)

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