PARIS - French carmakers are struggling to meet growing demand for diesel-powered cars.
Renault and PSA/Peugeot-Citroen both said they missed sales in 2001 because they couldn't get enough diesel engines.
'It is becoming more and more difficult to produce the number of diesel cars that our customers want,' said Claude Satinet, managing director of Automobiles Citroen. 'We could have made more sales if our diesel engine production had been up to it.'
Diesels accounted for 32 percent of new-car sales in Western Europe last year, up from 28 percent in 1999. Most industry analysts expect demand to reach 34 percent in 2001.
Demand last year was especially high in countries where the French carmakers are strongest. PSA's diesel sales mix went from 47.1 percent in 1999 to 49 percent last year. Renault's diesel share went from 28.7 percent in 1999 to 32.2 percent in 2000.
PSA began producing HDI direct-injection turbodiesel engines in September 1998. Last year it built 720,000 units of the HDI, which features a unique, patented particle filter/catalyst. It aims to produce 1 million in 2001.
All PSA models are equipped with HDI diesels except for the Peugeot 106 and the Citroen Saxo, which both have standard diesel engines.
Peugeot CEO Frederic Saint-Geours said the 1 million unit target can be achieved with existing production capacity. PSA's engine plant in Tremery, northeast France, can produce up to 2 million HDI engines a year by increasing manpower. 'We will increase work shifts,' said Saint-Geours.
Renault sales boss Francois Hinfray said the company has failed to keep up with the surge in diesel demand. But he said Renault will expand its global diesel engine capacity to 1.4 million in 2001, compared with 850,000 in 2000.
Worldwide, Renault makes 60,000 engines per week, including 18,000 diesels. It is investing $507 million to $580 million annually to expand engine production worldwide.
Renault expects to reach 40,000 diesels per week out of a total 70,000 to 75,000 engines by the end of 2002. Renault makes just two diesel-engine ranges, the 1.9-liter F and the 2.2-liter G.
Soon it will introduce two new small diesels, the 1.5-liter K in the spring, followed by a 1.2-liter unit in late 2002. The 1.2-liter will be the first common Renault-Nissan engine. 'Clearly, we are hitting a snag with regard to diesel production capacity and it will take 12 to 18 months to raise capacity effectively,' said one Renault insider.
In October, a shortage of diesel engines caused Renault to stop production for two days at seven main car assembly plants in Europe.
Rather than stockpile gasoline-powered cars, Renault chose to stop assembly operations.
Diesel sales increased everywhere in Europe in 2000 except in the United Kingdom. Belgium was No. 1, with 56 percent of new cars being diesel-powered, up from 53 percent in 1999.
Spain rose from 50 percent to 54 percent and climbed from 43 percent to 49 percent of total sales.