20 July 2022
20 July 2022, Comments Comments Off on Patrick Guilloux – Pilote
Patrick Guilloux - Pilote

French history, European vision

An interview with Patrick Guilloux, the CEO of the Pilote Groupe, a company that brings together the brands Pilote, Bavaria, Mooveo, Joa Camp, Hanroad, Le Voyageur, Frankia and Yucon

Words Antonio Mazzucchelli

From a company historically based on the French market to a group with a clear European vision: Pilote turns 60 and focuses on a complete range that spans all market segments and competes with all the major players throughout Europe. We interviewed Patrick Guilloux, who has been the CEO of the Pilote Group since 2018. Guilloux moved back to Nantes in France from the United States where he had spent several years as the head of Bénéteau US. He previously worked in Solectron-Flextronics and the Valeo Industrial group.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Can we track a short story of Pilote and its milestones?
Patrick Guilloux: This year we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Pilote Group. It was created in 1962, just south of Nantes in France, by André Padiou. A few years later, Philippe, his brother, joined him in the family business. If Pilote was first known for its caravans, the Pilote Group was one of the first companies to manufacture motorhomes in Europe, at the end of the 1970s. The company quickly focused on camping-cars, even becoming the European leader in the 1980s. In 1990, the company acquired the German brand Frankia, today a leader in the high-end segment in Europe. A few years later, Pilote continued its development in the top-of-the-range segment by acquiring the Le Voyageur brand, the undisputed leader in France. In recent years, major investments at its (nearby) Angers site have enabled the Pilote Group to become a leading player in the campervan segment. Today, the Pilote Group is one of the few groups to address all RV segments, from vans to full five tonne vehicles, but also from entry-level, with our new Joa Camp brand, to high-end.

Aboutcamp BtoB: How is Pilote structured today?
Patrick Guilloux: The Pilote Group currently has three industrial sites – two in France and one in Germany. The historic site, which is also our head office, is located south of Nantes and we manufacture low-profile and entry-level and mid-range A-Classes there. The second French site is at Angers where the high-end Le Voyageur A-Class models are manufactured, as well as entry-level and mid-range campervans. Our brand new carpentry centre is also on that site. Finally, we have a site in Germany, that of Frankia near Nuremberg. Significant investments have recently been made on our three sites to modernize them and increase their production capacity. In total, more than 1,000 people work for the Pilote Group, who enable the production of more than 7,000 vehicles each year.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What have been the main changes in production?
Patrick Guilloux: The main changes are that we no longer manufacture the same vehicles and are producing larger quantities. For example, in addition to low-profiles and integrated models, which are increasingly well equipped, campervans have been added. And the share of them both has evolved significantly in recent years. The workshops dedicated to furniture and panels are highly automated, but the final assembly still requires a lot of manual work. The Pilote Group is committed to industrializing this manual assembly work through organization, handling aids and a quality system that improves the product while being more efficient. This method of production also makes it possible to be more agile, to respond to market demand and to manufacture more vehicles in the same factories. In addition, we work a lot on the attractiveness of the group to attract the best possible employees.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Are there any transformations plan-ned? What investments have been made?
Patrick Guilloux: The Group is constantly changing and each production site has been greatly modernized over the past two years and this is still continuing. As a result, the Angers site produces three times more vehicles today than three years ago. The historic site at Nantes has also seen its capacity increase significantly. Beyond the large financial investments to increase capacity, the Group has also invested heavily in people by recruiting, when necessary, professionals who enable the Group to be much more efficient.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What is the current corporate structure of the Pilote Group?
Patrick Guilloux: The Pilote Group is currently made up of two structures. The French structure manages French production and the associated brands: Pilote, Bavaria, Mooveo, Joa Camp, Hanroad and Le Voyageur. The German structure manages German production and the Frankia and Yucon brands. Although these two companies have long been managed independently, we are developing ever stronger bridges between the two. For example, marketing of the Pilote brand in Germany is carried out by German teams. We are a medium-sized company and a lot of sharing takes place between the French team and the German team.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What types of products are you focused on?
Patrick Guilloux: As I have already mentioned, the Pilote Group manufactures a wide range of products, from campervans to large fully-integrated motorhomes. We are keen on having such variety in the range we offer as it allows us to meet all the needs of our dealers and especially all the desires of our customers. Although we are historically a manufacturer of low-profiles and integrated motorhomes, our product mix is evolving more and more towards the market trends. Nevertheless, we strive to be as efficient as possible in each of the segments, as proved by Frankia that is continuing to grow.

Aboutcamp BtoB: How have you reacted to the growth of the compact van segment?
Patrick Guilloux: In 2015, we were one of the forerunners in this field when we bought the company CSA Gérard, which fitted out vans near Nantes. Now marketed under the Hanroad brand, this company had been converting the Renault Trafic under the Mobispace name since 1979 and enjoys an excellent reputation among users. This product is very different from the others in many respects, which is why we preferred to acquire a company staffed by experts on the subject. We then took care to industrialize the production and market it on a large scale, under different brands. In order to accelerate this industrialization process, we have decided to focus on a single chassis brand, Renault. This is a segment with great potential, but in view of the recent investments made by Trigano or the Hymer Group, it appears that we are not the only ones to have made this observation!

Aboutcamp BtoB: Will the campervan segment maintain the considerable slice of the market that it has conquered in the long term?
Patrick Guilloux: That’s an excellent question. Customers who buy their first RV very often choose compactness with the van. But when they renew their vehicle, will they be tempted by a bigger and more comfortable vehicle? This is the challenge for our industry because we, manufacturers and dealers, must constantly anticipate. We see with the strong development of compact profiles that brands are trying to seduce this new clientele and attract them to semi-integrated where our added value as a manufacturer is stronger.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What are Pilote’s main markets?
Patrick Guilloux: Our main market remains France where we sell around 50% of our production. But this share is falling each year because of the development of our exports, particularly to Germany. We have radically changed our distribution strategy in Germany and it seems to be paying off. In addition, we are historically strong in Scandinavia where product quality is still a primary criteria. But there are many markets where our market share is modest, so we have real growth potential.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What problems has the pandemic created for the Pilote Groupe?
Patrick Guilloux: The main problem is the permanent uncertainty. At first, it was the date of resumption of production and the impacts of the pandemic on the economy. Then it was whether or not to hold trade shows (exhibitions) and other commercial events, as they are economically important for a group like Pilote. For the past year, there has obviously been uncertainty about the delivery of the chassis and more generally of the material to manufacture our vehicles. Luckily for all of us, demand has been very strong so far.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What is the situation regarding the procurement of raw materials and components? What worries you most?
Patrick Guilloux: Our suppliers have been telling us for two years that it will be better next season. And it’s been two years of the next season being worse than the previous one. So what worries us the most is the next season! We still have very reduced visibility and no signal seems to indicate that this situation can turn around in the short term. It is exhausting for the logistics, commercial, administrative and production teams. Nevertheless, everyone shows impressive resilience and organizes the management of these hazards with professionalism.

Aboutcamp BtoB: How do you deal with the issue of difficulty in sourcing base vehicles in a short time? Which suppliers will you focus on in the near future?
Patrick Guilloux: Historically, we have very strong partnerships with the Stellantis, Mercedes and Renault groups for each of the segments we serve. An easy reflex would be to want to change suppliers because they do not meet our request, but as we say in France, “we always believe that the grass is greener elsewhere.”. We must take into account the solidity of the partnership, today and tomorrow, and make decisions accordingly.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What problems will the Russia-Ukraine conflict bring to the RV sector?
Patrick Guilloux: Beyond the supply problems for some suppliers in the sector, particularly automotive, the short-term impact is minor. However, the real problem is the acceleration of inflation, which could affect the performance of the markets. We are very focused on the possible future impacts and will be able to adapt, if necessary. The Pilot Group is of course in solidarity and wholeheartedly with the Ukrainians in the face of this human tragedy.