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U.S. tire magnate blasts France's 'so-called workers'

February 20, 2013|By Kim Willsher | This post has been updated. See the note below for details.
  • Workers leave a Goodyear tire plant in Amiens, France.
Workers leave a Goodyear tire plant in Amiens, France. (Philippe Huguen / AFP/Getty…)

PARIS -- An incredulous -- and insulting -- letter from an American capitalist to a Socialist government minister in France has revealed a monumental clash of cultures.

Tire magnate Maurice "Morry" Taylor Jr., head of Titan International, did not hold back when he decided to tell Arnaud Montebourg, France's minister for industrial renewal, where he could stick his suggestion that the U.S. businessman take over an ailing French factory.

A simple no, or even non, might have sufficed. But Taylor, who made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996, launched into a tirade.

"Do you think we're stupid?" he wrote in a blunt missive that was published in the French media Wednesday.

Known as "The Grizz" and described by Forbes magazine as "rough-hewn," Taylor said he had visited a Goodyear tire factory near Amiens, in northern France, "several times" and was less than impressed.

"The French workers are paid high wages but only work three hours. They have one hour for their lunch, they talk for three hours and they work for three hours. I told this to their union leaders directly; they replied, that is the way it is in France," Taylor wrote to Montebourg.

He rebuffed the French government's approach for him to take over the plant, which is faced with closure and the loss of 1,173 jobs. Goodyear has blamed union intransigence for the failure of rescue attempts.

"Sir, your letter suggests you would like to open discussions with Titan. How stupid do you think we are? Titan has money and the know-how to produce tires. What does the crazy union have? It has the French government. The French farmer wants cheap tires. He doesn't care if those tires come from China or India or if those tires are subsidized.

"Titan is going to buy Chinese or Indian tires, pay less than one euro an hour to workers and export all the tires France needs."

Montebourg has declined to respond to Taylor, saying he does not want to "damage" France's image, presumably by flinging back some choice words.

[Updated 1:15 p.m. Feb. 20: But in a letter to Taylor also sent to journalists Wednesday evening, Montebourg said the American's comments were "as extreme as they were insulting" and showed his "perfect ignorance of our country and its solid advantages."

Montebourg pointed out that 4,200 American companies had operations in France that employed 500,000 people.

He finished by condemning Taylor's suggestion that he would move operations to countries where labor costs less and flood the French market with cheap tires. But Montebourg managed a final flourish of humor: "Rest assured you can count on me to ensure that your imported tires are inspected by the relevant French authorities with extra zeal."]

Taylor is known for his no-nonsense -- some would say brash -- approach to business. In one of a series of "Buy American" advertisements in 2008, he said that putting French-made Michelin tires on a U.S.-made tractor would be like "putting a beret on a cowboy."

His letter -- nobody has yet revealed if it was composed in English or in French -- ended with a final undiplomatic flourish.

"You can keep your so-called workers," he wrote. "Titan is not interested in the factory in north Amiens."

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