Renault says sales fell 21% in 2020, but turnaround on track

PARIS (Reuters) - French automaker Renault said on Tuesday its worldwide sales fell by 21.3% last year, underperforming a decline in the global automotive market triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and a slowdown in world economies.

But the company, which is trying to turn around its performance after acknowledging it had overstretched itself over years of ambitious global expansion, said its turnaround plan was still on track.

It has said a key element of that plan is a focus on profitability, not sales volume.

“We are starting 2021 with a higher level of orders than in 2019, a lower level of inventory and a higher price positioning across the entire range”, CEO Luca de Meo said in a statement.

The company said global total sales last year stood at 2.949 million vehicles. The fall in Renault sales in Europe was 25.8 %, slightly under-performing the wider European auto market.

But sales of electric vehicles in the region were strong, rising 101.4% from 2019 to 115,888.

Renault last year announced plans to cut about 15,000 jobs, shrink production and restructure French plants in a bid to save 2 billion euros.

Like its Japanese alliance partner Nissan, Renault is rowing back on an aggressive expansion plan pursued by Carlos Ghosn, its former boss-turned-fugitive.

The pair were among the weakest global automakers going into the COVID-19 crisis, lacking a clear plan for using their alliance to emerge from the slump and share the burden of investing in electric vehicles and other technology.

Renault shares were up 0.7% in early trading in Paris after the sales figures were released.

Reporting by Gilles Guillaume; Writing by Benoit Van Overstraeten and Christian Lowe; Editing by Kirsten Donovan