PSA Peugeot Citroen is to hire 7,000 new staff in France this year as it rolls out new models to help it meet an ambitious target of selling four million cars in 2006.

According to Reuters, PSA said it would hire 2,000 new executives and technicians and create 5,000 new blue-collar jobs, all in its core automotive division – the announcement comes after it added 4,400 staff in France last year.

Ironically, it also comes after the company announced plans to drop the fourth shift at its UK plant, with the loss of 700 jobs.

Reuters noted that Europe’s second-biggest carmaker suffered last year due to a dearth of new models but says new cars this year should lead to “moderate sales growth” in the second half.

“This recruitment effort… will give us the means to achieve our target of four million cars in 2006, as part of a product plan that involves launching 26 new models between 2003 and 2006,” PSA reportedly said on its website, adding that the new staff would also replace employees leaving due to early retirement.

Reuters also noted that many carmakers are shunning western Europe in favour of high-growth markets in central and eastern Europe, where labour is cheaper.