Q&A: PSA boss Tavares on Vauxhall, Brexit and EVs

As head of the PSA Group, which comprises Peugeot, Citroën, DS and Vauxhall-Opel, Carlos Tavares is one of the most powerful figures in the car industry – and facing up to a number of major industry challenges.

With the Vauxhall brand’s British base and production sites, Tavares has been an outspoken critic of the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit, while the group is also heavily pushing electrification to meet the incoming European Union CO2 emission targets.

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At the Frankfurt motor show, Tavares spoke on a wide range of issues with a handful of reporters, including Autocar. These are his thoughts.

You set targets for Vauxhall when you acquired the company. Brexit aside, how’s it going?

“We have been working with the two UK companies – Luton and Ellesmere – and it has been a rewarding experience. They are getting closer and closer to the average efficiencies of the PSA Group plants. I am very pleased. It is not finished, but they are going in the right direction, at the right speed.”

How is the management doing?

“As you know, they have a very good manager, Steve Norman. He is making good progress on profit and market share. But the used cars aren’t yet where we want to be, and our channel mix – sales to rentals – can improve, too. But in all, it is all working quite well.”

How far is the group from meeting its CO2 targets?

“We have been working on them for two years and our basic stance is that we are compliant. We are going to meet the targets of 2020 and 2021. That is good; we will pay no fines.”

How do you feel about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit?

“We should all say, as citizens of Europe or Britain, that we cannot accept no deal. In our industry, if there was a big dispute, everyone would say we need a better dialogue. These people were not elected to create a lose-lose situation. We must tell them: you have to find a deal. Setting two trains running towards one another at full speed – so each side can prove its strength – makes no sense at all.”

What if there really is a no-deal Brexit?

“Then we have to think about protecting the company. That is a matter of respect. You cannot expect employees of one part of the company to pay for another. But I’m not working towards that situation. I am working to make this a success.”

There’s a job going at Nissan. Are you interested?

“No. Is that clear enough?”

Other manufacturers here today have different EV policies that you; some (Ford) say hybrids work best as superminis, others (Volkswagen) say a dedicated EV platform is best. Who’s right?

“I’m not sure. We are unable to predict the future. Our view is that the only good answer is to have multi-energy solutions in cars that can be made on the same line, so we can adapt to unpredictable demand. One vital thing is to protect EV profitability. We are careful not to make ours at a loss. If we and others did that, we would struggle to play a part in fixing global warming.”

Do you think motor shows like this are under threat?

“Our own decision is only to go if we have a particular model to launch or point to make. Our reference point is: we don’t go. But if we do, we can make economies. This year’s show stand is one-third the cost of the one we had two years ago. It’s not luxurious, but it doesn’t look cheap.”

Does the PSA Group need new partners?

“No, we don’t need an alliance. We are entering a tunnel that might contain 10 years of chaos while the new situation is being sorted out. There will be a lot of breakdowns in this industry in the years ahead, but we are not going to be one of them.”