Japanese tyremaker Bridgestone said Wednesday that it would shut its factory in France, prompting the government to denounce a "brutal" move that will cost 863 jobs.
Bridgestone cited overcapacity in Europe and fierce competition from Asian rivals, and said it would seek a buyer for the site, located in the north of the country.
"This is not a decision we took lightly," said Laurent Dartoux, president of Bridgestone's operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
But the announcement stunned the employees in Bethune, one of several cities across northern and eastern France suffering from widespread industrial decline in recent decades.
"We thought a restructuring was likely, but not a shutdown," Christophe Bouttmy, a Sud Chimie union official, told AFP on the sidelines of a works council committee.
In a joint statement, the French government and Xavier Bertrand, president of the Hauts-de-France region, contested the company's reasons for a "brutal" move.
They demanded that Bridgestone "pursue a detailed analysis of alternative projects to avoid the site's closure".
The company said it was "fully aware of the social consequences" of its decision, vowing to offer jobs at its other operations in France or early retirement packages.
In a statement, Bridgestone said its French retail and distribution network employing 3,500 people would remain intact.
But the Covid-19 crisis has hammered Europe's automobile sector, with the market contracting by 40 percent in the first half of this year as lockdown measures and other restrictions discouraged new car purchases.