[Georges Besse] told the union officials that Renault's labor force in France, which totalled 98,000 at the end of 1984, would have to be reduced to 77,000 by the end of 1986. Renault's oversized labor force, according to Besse, made the company inefficient, handicapping it in competition with foreign manufacturers.
In his presentation, Besse outlined other changes at Renault, including the appointment of new managers in key positions. But he did not propose the closing of any plants, and said nothing about abandoning Renault's investment in troubled American Motors, which some analysts regard as a drain on funds.
Partly because he played a key role in arranging these heavy American investments in 1981, and partly because of his mathematics degree from Columbia University, [Bernard Hanon] was known in the industry as "the American." He took over in 1981 at a time when Renault was riding high, phenomenally successful in the 1970s because of the sales throughout Europe of its small, low-priced, fuel-efficient Renault 5. By 1975, Renault had become Europe's largest auto maker-outdistancing even West Germany's giant Volkswagen, and it remained on top until the end of the decade. Now it has dropped to sixth place.