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Titan-ic U-turn? Speculation rises over French tire plant

Remy Gabalda | AFP | Getty Images

Arnaud Montebourg, France's notorious minister for Industrial Renewal, has revealed that U.S. tire manufacturer Titan, whose outspoken CEO said a Goodyear factory was "not worth saving", might be on the verge of proposing a deal to take it over after all.

The Amiens plant in France is a very prickly issue for Goodyear. Since 2007, the American group has been battling to restructure the struggling factory, only to run into lawsuits, union protests and industrial action.

Earlier this year, after Goodyear announced it was planning to close the plant, the French socialist government wrote to Titan, suggesting the company buy the plant.

(Read more: Adieu! How France could be losing its elite)

"How stupid to you think we are?" wrote Titan's CEO, Maurice Taylor, to Montebourg in February 2013.

"The French workforce gets paid high wages but work only three hours", he added, "they get one hour for breaks and lunch, they talk for three and work for three".

Criticizing both the French and U.S governments and citing subsidies in China and India, he wrote that the group would rather buy Chinese and Indian tire-makers due to the cheap labour costs and concluded: "You can keep the so-called workers. Titan has no interest in the Amiens North factory".

Montebourg — who has gained a combative reputation when it comes to safeguarding French jobs, including telling steelmaker ArcelorMittal it was no longer welcome in the country after it announced plans to close several furnaces — swiftly replied to Maurice Taylor, describing his comments as "as extremist as they are insulting".

However, by Monday, according to Montebourg, Titan might be willing to take over the plant and invest over $100 million, $40 million of which would go to the site, and maintain 330 jobs (out of the 1,100 strong workforce) for at least four years.

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But while Montebourg has announced Titan's renewed interest, he appears to be the only one.

"I know nothing regarding your country [France] of formidable wines and beautiful women," said Taylor to the French news agency AFP. Meanwhile Goodyear said it had "received no new offers" for Amiens.

However, Taylor's Facebook update appeared to add fuel to the speculation.

France's strict labor protection laws have often been criticized as a barrier for foreign investment. However, in its 2012 report, "Job-creating foreign investment in France", the government's Invest in France agency reveals that in the past 10 years, the country had attracted over 6,500 new foreign investments, and that the trend showed no sign of waning.

(Read more: Why the French may say 'non' to 'Made in France')

In fact, it says, that despite a global decline of foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2012 and a 35 percent fall in European Union inflows, France was the world's fifth leading recipient of FDI flows in 2012, ahead of Germany.

It also highlights "how American companies continued to choose France as the location for new job-creating investments in 2012, consolidating the United States' position as France's leading foreign investor".

New American investments accounted for 23 percent of the 693 new foreign projects in 2012, with a significant rise in the number of first-time investors in the country.

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