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March 27, 2003

COMMENT: Michelin: war creates unexpected backlash

Michelin has been the subject of aggressive attempts to drive away its custom by groups seeking to persuade US citizens to boycott French products, in the aftermath of France's fierce opposition to the war on Iraq. However, many of the products specifically targeted are in fact made in the US.

By bcusack

Michelin has been the subject of aggressive attempts to drive away its custom by groups seeking to persuade US citizens to boycott French products, in the aftermath of France’s fierce opposition to the war on Iraq. However, many of the products specifically targeted are in fact made in the US.

In response to France’s position on the war in Iraq, there have been some calls in the US for Americans to stop buying French products. Well-known cheese, mustard, wine and mineral water brands have been withdrawn in many stores. Annual sales of French goods in the US total around $28 billion.

Comments from politicians such as Republican congressman Pete King have done little to alleviate US hostility towards France. “The feeling is that we’ve been a public punching bag for too long by a third-rate nation like France and the only question is what we should do about it,” he was quoted as saying in the New York Post.

Companies in the automotive industry have also suffered US consumers’ wrath.

Michelin has received over 200 calls and emails in this critical vein and has reportedly answered every one of them, largely to point out that Michelin North America is in fact an American-based company, which makes the majority of its tyre products for the North American market, in North American factories, using North American labour.

Unsurprisingly the company, which has no influence on the foreign policy of the French government, has thus far not suffered any great decrease in business due to the efforts of the boycott groups.

Other supposedly French automotive players that have also received such angry communications include Nissan, which is partly (44.4%) owned by French manufacturer Renault. However, as around 80% of Nissan vehicles for the North American market are manufactured in North America and the rest come from Japan, the French link is again somewhat tenuous, especially as the company is Japanese in origin.

Overall, it seems that jingoistic protestors in the US have little in the way of purely French automotive products to boycott, especially since Peugeot, the last strictly French manufacturer to do business in the US market, pulled out in 1991. Indeed, many of the “French” products that people are being encouraged to boycott are in fact made in America.

SOURCE: DATAMONITOR COMMENTWIRE (c) 2003 Datamonitor. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without prior written consent. Datamonitor shall not be liable for errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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