Can you tell us about the ARIA, DV GROUP and your role?

Luc Messien: The ARIA, the Regional Automotive Industry Association, is an association created in 1996 according to the law of 1901. It has more than 200 members who are all players in the automotive industry, such as vehicle manufacturers, equipment manufacturers of various statures, capital equipment suppliers, institutions, service-providers, mobility companies and start-ups. All these players are linked through the ARIA, which is where the strength of our industry lies.

Pierre Vandenhove: DV GROUP is a service company for industry specialising in engineering, maintenance and monitoring. We have been working every day for 50 years to meet our clients’ needs by developing solutions adapted to all industrial processes. Historically, the automotive industry has always been a fundamental sector for our group and now it represents around 25% of our turnover. We have the same vision as the ARIA and share the various issues and challenges which the automotive industry raises. Our approaches are different, certainly, being operational and productive on the one side and institutional and associative on the other, but they are complementary nonetheless.

Historically, and most particularly for around the last fifteen years, the French automotive industry has been constantly developing. Have you therefore supported the players in this sector in facing these changes?

PV: For several years now, we have been seeing a real resolution in the automotive sector. The race to produce an autonomous, connected and eco-friendly car is forcing constructors to invest large sums in order to innovate and thus conform to these new trends. At the industrial level, this translates particularly through the modernisation, automation and robotisation of production systems. As a service company for industry, we have adapted to these developments in order to support our clients in this profound transformation by developing “IT 4.0” solutions dedicated to these new technological, economical and environmental issues.

LM: Yes, just like DV GROUP, we are in close contact with players in this sector. In particular, we have supported them via financing programmes for the upskilling of colleagues, particularly on the digitalisation side. Consequently, following three Asparance programmes, we are currently supporting companies thanks to Arinnov. These European programmes are driven regionally following the automotive industry very closely in order to try to better anticipate its developments.

Concretely, what is the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the automotive sector and what has your role been during this period?

LM: Concretely, we have observed that the impact of Covid-19 on the automotive sector has brought about a drop of 21% in the global market. Remote-working has developed and cash-flow and supply chains have been weakened, preventing projects coming to fruition. Events have also been postponed. During this period, the ARIA has had a role as a facilitator between companies and organisations. In fact, we have supported companies in order to build up their cash flow and mobilise experts to support them in anticipating events post-crisis. In this context, it could be said that the crisis has demonstrated the benefit of being a member of our association!

PV: As the ARIA has highlighted, Covid-19 has revealed a health crisis and also an industrial crisis. During this period, our role has been to support our clients in this unprecedented situation by maintaining all our activities. In this way, we have scrupulously made sure that the protection and safety of our colleagues, clients and partners is ensured. In addition, we are fully involved in the relaunch of the industrial sector and are committed to the Grand Rebond initiative of La French Fab which is aimed at sharing the innovations of French industrialists and thus participate in the relaunch.

The Government has recently devised a relaunch plan. In your opinion, what will be the key to helping the automotive industry bounce back?

LM: In order to face a destabilised world market and the global decrease in this sector’s activity, it is essential to support the whole automotive value chain and particularly the small and medium companies which are the basis of it, because without local supply the regional automotive industry cannot last in the long term. For us, however, this relaunch plan must first and foremost allow local companies to successfully transform in order to remain competitive.

PV: Quite right! The automotive industry is going to have to meet a double challenge: bounce back from the Covid-19 crisis and also transform itself, particularly for the large-scale launch of tomorrow’s vehicles. In order to overcome these, industrialists are going to have to turn to Industry 4.0 and adopt its key concepts, which are now indispensable for accelerating the rebound of the sector. Of course, the technological aspect is the main element, but I am sure that support and training are just as important. To sum up, in order to get the maximum profit from Industry 4.0 and thus bounce back, the real issue for companies is to use an appropriate, adapted and safe solution and also to be supported and, for that, to be in contact with a reliable partner.

In your opinion, is there a good level of digitalisation in companies in the automotive sector in the region of Hauts-de France?

PV: Digitalisation and the new industrial processes, based particularly on the contribution from big data and algorhythms, are a fantastic reservoir of productivity gains and also the flexibility of production. Today, the large manufacturers and suppliers have understood this well and are undergoing radical transformation. However, the real current issue is contacting smaller players in such a way that all the players in the sector can progress in the same direction. In this way, the automotive industry will be more competitive and sustainable.

LM: It is clear that digitalisation has accelerated regionally, but it actually still reaches very few companies. The data is globally available, but not necessarily used. In addition, as a complement to digitalisation, it is essential for the sector to concentrate on the cyber-security which allows the essential data to be protected against business competition.

Given these issues, how do you see the future of the automotive or mobility sector?

PV: The car, the most popular element of daily life since the XXth century, is currently the subject of several debates. There are several hypotheses on the table: will the car, the last secure space, be the alternative to public transport? Or, inversely, will it be banished owing to its environmental impact? It is clear that cars are at a decisive crossroads in their history and one thing is certain: players in the automotive industry are going to have to adapt to these new issues while remaining centred on their clients’ expectations.

LM: As far as the Hauts-de-France region is concerned, it has wonderful assets to be highlighted: an exceptional location at the centre of the European automotive industry, a diversity of players with the presence of many foreign groups and real expertise driven by a dense coverage of small and medium companies. I therefore think that the trend in the future will be to re-think our operational modes while continually challenging ourselves: we must respond as closely as possible to consumers’ demands, as well as the new standards in order to envisage a positive future.