And two. After Trenitalia, Renfe is taking advantage of the opening to competition in France to challenge the SNCF on the TGV. But, to each their own tactic: since the end of 2021, the Italian company has been competing with the French group on the most profitable route: Paris-Lyon. For now, Renfe is playing the road less traveled card. In July, the historic Spanish railway operator began running its AVE TGVs on Barcelona-Lyon and Madrid-Marseille trains three times a week (Saturday, Sunday, Monday). With unbeatable prices: 9 euros on a Franco-French journey like Narbonne-Montpellier when the journey was most often worth twice as much with the SNCF; 19 euros for a Montpellier-Barcelona; 29 euros for a Madrid-Marseille.
“We have already sold 105,000 tickets and have a fill rate of 80%,” says Susana Lozano, French market director of AVE Renfe. “It’s undoubtedly a great commercial success,” said Jacques Gounon, president of Getlink (formerly Eurotunnel). The Spanish company is now moving on to the second stage of its offensive: daily connections on the Barcelona-Lyon (since September 1) and the Madrid-Marseille (since October 1). With further promotions for one week (from October 4 to 10) during which prices will remain attractive even if they will be raised a little: 19 euros for a French-French journey, 39 euros for Marseille-Madrid. “Afterwards, we will practice yield management like all companies, trying to keep prices attractive,” emphasizes Susanna Lozano.
Casually, this is the first time that Renfe has ventured outside its borders alone. The company is well present in Saudi Arabia, Latin America and the Czech Republic, but always with a partner. While rail competition is in full swing in Spain, the Iberian group has set itself the objective of achieving 10% of its turnover internationally by 2028. France, with its large TGV network, was logically a target. But it is also a question of opportunity which led Renfe to choose Barcelona-Lyon and Madrid-Marseille to get its hands on the French market.
For around ten years, it teamed up with the SNCF within the Elipsos project to operate these lines. Without much success: the operation has always been loss-making. The change of team at the Franco-Spanish border did not make things easier. And environmental concerns were rarely strong enough to make people prefer the train to the plane. As a result, at the beginning of 2022, the French group announced to Renfe that it would end this partnership in 2023. The Spaniard said to himself that there was a move to be made because he already knows most of the ground.
Another factor spurred him on. SNCF made a sensational entry into the Spanish market by launching its low-cost Ouigo TGVs in May 2021. Initially, they only served the Madrid-Barcelona line. But, given the success, the French operator added a Madrid-Valence and a Madrid-Alicante. And service to Seville or Cordoba should come. “Since the launch, we have transported six million passengers by Ouigo in Spain,” says SNCF Voyageurs. Faced with the violence of the attack, Renfe very quickly released its own low-cost TGV offer called Avlo, which met its audience.
But the Spaniards are perhaps a little tired of being lectured by the French. “The Barcelona-Lyon and the Madrid-Marseille that they launched recently, it’s a bit like the shepherd’s response to the shepherdess,” smiles Arnaud Aymé, transport specialist at the Sia consultancy firm. In the meantime, many are wondering about the possibility of making money on these routes where there is a plethora of low-cost flights that allow you to make a round trip during the day at a good price. The first two years of operation should be made easier if SNCF Réseau applied, as with Trenitalia, lower rail tolls on the French part, as a new entrant.
Renfe will not stop there. After having trained in the South, the Spaniard intends to open the Paris-Lyon line. Before the Olympic Games if its Talgo S106 equipment is approved in time. “There is still a place to be taken for an operator. Since Trenitalia arrived on this line, there have been approximately 15% more passengers,” estimates Gilles Dansart, editor of the specialized newsletter Mobilettre. According to experts, a new offer would further increase the number of travelers. Passengers will have another hope: a drop in prices driven by competition. After all, in 2022, the year Trenitalia launched, the price of a Paris-Lyon TGV flight fell by 8%, to 42 euros for a standard adult.