Among French car manufacturers, a very active transfer window

Carlos Tavares, then boss of PSA (now director of Stellantis), presents the group's new strategic plan,

Zineb Ghout, 43, has been the new director of Peugeot-France since August. Before managing the manufacturer’s operations in France, she spent nearly twenty years within Renault, where she was until then the marketing director. Not so long ago, such a transfer would have caused a lot of noise. From now on, the arrival of a defector from “the house across the street” is no longer shocking.

Until the mid-2010s, there was an implicit pact between Renault and its rivals not to poach senior executives. The only notable hiccup in this gentleman’s agreement (informal agreement) occurred in 1975, when Robert Opron – who headed the Citroën style center where he designed the CX and the SM, among others – slammed the door to go design Renaults. The Régie owes him the R11, the Fuego and the R25. Even if automobile design is then one of the only areas conducive to back and forth, this move to competition from the style director of a manufacturer will remain an exception to the rule for a long time.

Everything changed in 2014. That year, the unimaginable happened: a senior leader changed sides to seize the reins of the great rival. Carlos Tavares, who was chomping at the bit behind Carlos Ghosn as number two at Renault, is chosen by the Peugeot family to take over the management of PSA. The arrival of the new boss will disinhibit some people’s desires for elsewhere and initiate a very active transfer window among French car manufacturers.

Affinity choices

In 2020, the Billancourt firm, in bad shape, suffered a brain drain to PSA, which became Stellantis. Arnaud Deboeuf is recruited as industrial director and Thierry Koskas promoted to sales director, while Béatrice Foucher takes charge of the destiny of DS.

A few months later, the pendulum swings. Luca de Meo, director of Renault, himself from the Volkswagen group, rolls out the red carpet in front of Gilles Vidal, appointed head of design, and Arnaud Belloni, in charge of marketing. Then it was Gilles Le Borgne’s turn to arrive at the diamond brand to head engineering, the role he already held at PSA. Recruitments which, most often, are not the result of networks of major schools but the consequence of affinity choices, born from links forged among various manufacturers.

By crossing the Rubicon in 2014, Carlos Tavares caused a sensation but not a scandal. Renault has not brandished any non-competition clause – the brands are, however, more careful about respecting the confidentiality clauses included in the contracts they sign – because morals have evolved in the automobile industry. Long before him, German engineer Bernd Pischetsrieder headed BMW from 1993 to 1999, then the Volkswagen group from 2002 to 2006.

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