Why Acting Renault CEO Isn’t Worried About Autonomous Cars Killing Sales

The future shift to autonomous vehicles will reduce the number of cars that people need, Groupe Renault’s acting CEO Clotilde Delbos concedes—but she’s not worried that this will hurt sales too much.

That’s because Delbos reckons such cars will not last as long as today’s autos, thanks to increased utilization rates that result from autonomous vehicles being shared between users.

“You are going to be using this car so much that the lifespan is going to be two to three years, not seven,” Delbos said Tuesday at the Fortune Global Forum in Paris. “You’re going to need fewer cars, but you will need them more often.”

Delbos has been in her post for 40 days, since the October ouster of Thierry Bolloré. She was previously the company’s chief financial officer.

Does she want to take the CEO role on permanently? Delbos refused to be drawn on that question Tuesday, but Reuters reported several days ago that she has put her name forward.

In the meantime, she is conducting a review of the strategy that was set out under the former reign of Carlos Ghosn, who was arrested and charged with financial wrongdoing in Japan.

“Basically what I am doing is trying to reset where we want to go for the end of the year, for the next year,” Delbos said. “Also I have announced we need to work on our midterm plan, our ambition, because the market has changed.”

Delbos said Renault would avoid pulling out of certain markets if possible, but the option remained on the table. What is for certain is that “Renault cannot survive without the alliance” with Nissan and Mitsubishi that Ghosn glued together. “The alliance is not a goal in itself—it’s just needed to face the challenges the automotive industry is facing,” she said.

The former CFO said that, in that capacity, she had supported the mooted merger with Fiat Chrysler that the French government famously shot down—though she stressed that what happened there was “not that simple.” Delbos said Nissan had needed more time to consider the implications of the merger, and had not been able to quickly deliver the “frank yes” that was required by the French government, a large stakeholder in Renault.

“It was a pity because we did not have enough time to explore better what I thought would have been a great deal,” Delbos said.

Looking to the future, Delbos also said Renault is considering subscription models for its vehicles, and is conducting tests in conjunction with the group’s RCI banking operation.

“We are making some tests…where you can pay a subscription fee and have various cars along the year, according to your needs,” she said, explaining that a single subscription could allow a customer to have a small Zoe electric car during the week, a sedan for the weekend and a fancy Alpine sports car a couple times a year “for a nice drive with your fiancé.”

The subscription could even be offered in partnership with rail companies, giving people a wide range of travel options, Delbos said.

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