Renault S.A. is a French vehicle manufacturer producing cars, vans, buses, tractors, and trucks. The company is well known for numerous revolutionary designs, security technologies and motor racing.
When its cars were exported to the United States during the 1950s and 1960s, the name was commonly mispronounced as "Ren-alt" to and by the American public, and the Americanized pronunciation continues in common usage, though the original French has gained significant ground over recent years. Presently in the United Kingdom it is also incorrectly pronounced as "Reh-no". The correct pronunciation is "Ruh-no".
Producing cars since late 1898, the Renault corporation was founded in 1899 as Société Renault Frères by Louis Renault, his brothers Marcel and Fernand, and his friends Thomas Evert and Julian Wyer. Louis was a bright, aspiring young engineer who had already designed and built several models before teaming up with his brothers, who had honed their business skills working for their father's textiles firm. While Louis handled design and production, Marcel and Fernand handled company management.
The first Renault car, the Renault Voiturette 1CV was sold to a friend of Louis' father after giving him a test ride on December 24, 1898. The client was so impressed with the way the tiny car ran and how it climbed the streets that he bought it.
The brothers immediately recognised the publicity that could be obtained for their vehicles by participation in motor racing and Renault made itself known through achieving instant success in the first city-to-city races held in Switzerland, resulting in rapid expansion for the company. Both Louis and Marcel Renault raced company vehicles, but Marcel was killed in an accident during the 1903 Paris-Madrid race. Although Louis Renault never raced again, his company remained very involved, including their Renault AK 90CV winning the first ever Grand Prix motor racing event in 1906. Louis was to take full control of the company as the only remaining brother in 1906 when Fernand retired for health reasons.
The Renault reputation for innovation was fostered from very early on. In 1899, Renault launched the first production sedan car as well as patenting the first turbocharger. At the time, cars were very much luxury items, and the price of the smallest Renaults available being 3000 francs reflected this; an amount it would take ten years for the average worker at the time to earn. As well as cars, Renault manufactured taxis, buses and commercial cargo vehicles in the pre-war years, and during World War I (1914 - 1918) branched out into ammunition, military airplanes and vehicles such as the revolutionary Renault FT-17 tank. Renault became the world's leading manufacturer of airplane engines, and the success of the company's military designs were such that Renault himself was honoured by the Allies for his company's contributions to their victory. By the end of the war, Renault was the number one private manufacturer in France.
Louis Renault enlarged the scope of his company after 1918, producing agricultural and industrial machinery. However, Renault struggled to compete with the increasingly popular small, affordable "people's cars", while problems with the stock market and the workforce also adversely affected the company's growth. Renault also had to find a way to distribute its vehicles more efficiently. In 1920, he signed one of its first distribution contracts with Gustave Gueudet, an entrepreneur from northern France.
The pre-First World War cars had a distinctive front shape caused by positioning the radiator behind the engine to give a so called "coalscuttle" bonnet. This continued through the 1920s and it was not until 1930 that all models had the radiator at the front. The bonnet badge changed from circular to the familiar and continuing diamond shape in 1925. Renault models were introduced at the Paris Motor Show which was held in September or October of the year. This has led to a slight confusion as to vehicle identification. For example a "1927" model was mostly produced in 1928.
Renault produced a range of cars from small to very large. For example in 1928 which was the year when Renault produced 45,809 cars the range of 7 models started with a 6cv, a 10cv, the Monasix, 15cv, the Vivasix, the 18/24cv and the 40cv. There was a range of factory bodies, of up to 8 styles, and the larger chassis were available to coachbuilders. The number of a model produced varied with size. The smaller were the most popular with the least produced being the 18/24cv. The most expensive factory body style in each range was the closed cars. Roadsters and tourers (torpedoes) were the cheapest.
The London operation was very important to Renault in 1928. The UK market was quite large and from there "colonial" modified vehicles were dispatched. Lifted suspensions, enhanced cooling and special bodies were common on vehicles sold to the colonies. Exports to the USA by 1928 had almost reduced to zero from their high point prior to WW1 when to ship back a Grand Renault or similar high class European manufactured car was common. A NM 40cv Tourer had a USA list price of over $4,600 being about the same as a V12 Cadillac Tourer. Closed 7 seat limousines started at $6,000 which was more expensive than a Cadillac V16 Limousine.
The whole range was conservatively engineered and built. The newly introduced 1927 Vivasix, model PG1, was sold as the "executive sports" model. Lighter weight factory steel bodies powered by a 3180cc six cylinder motor provided a formula that went through to the Second World War.
The "de Grand Luxe Renaults", that is any with over 12 foot wheelbase (3.68m), were produced in very small numbers in two major types - six and eight cylinder. The 1927 six cylinder Grand Renault models NM, PI and PZ introduced the new three spring rear suspension that considerably aided road holding that was needed as with some body styles over 90mph was possible. The 8 cylinder Reinastella was introduced in 1929. This model lead on to a range culminating in the 1939 Suprastella. All Grand Renaults from 1923 are classed as classics by CCCA. Coachbuilders included Kellner, Labourdette, J.Rothschild et Fils and Renault bodies. Closed car Renault bodies were often trimmed and interior wood work completed by Rothschild.
Renault also introduced in 1928 an upgraded specification to the larger cars designated "Stella". Vivastella's and Grand Renaults had upgraded interior fittings and had a small star fitted above the front hood Renault diamond. This proved to be a winning marketing differentiator and in the 1930's all cars changed to the Stella suffix from the previous two alpha character model identifiers.
The Grand Renaults were built using a considerable amount of aluminium. Engines, brakes, transmissions, floor and running boards and all external body panels were aluminium. Unfortunately of the few that were built many went to scrap to aid the War effort.
During World War II, Louis Renault's factories worked for Nazi Germany producing trucks with work on cars officially forbidden. He was, for this reason, arrested during the liberation of France in 1944 and died in prison before having prepared his defense. An autopsy later showed that his neck had been broken, suggesting that he was murdered. His industrial assets were seized by the provisional government of France. The Renault factories became a public industry (known as Régie Nationale des Usines Renault) under the leadership of Pierre Lefaucheux.
In the years immediately following its nationalisation Renault experienced something of a resurgence, led by the rear engine 4CV model, which was launched in 1946 and proved itself a capable rival for cars such as the Morris Minor and Volkswagen Beetle, its success (more than half a million sold) making sure it remained in production until 1961. There was also a large mechanically conventional 2-litre 4-cylinder car, the Renault Fregate, from 1951 to 1960.
As with earlier Renault models, the company made extensive use of motor racing to promote the 4CV, the car winning both the Le Mans 24 Hours and Mille Miglia races as well as the Monte Carlo rally. However, despite the success of its flagship model, the company continued to be blighted by labor unrest, and indeed continued to be well into the 1980s.
The 4CV's replacement, the Dauphine, sold extremely well as the company expanded production and sales further abroad, including Africa and North America. The car did not sell well in North America and it was outdated by the start of the 1960s. In an attempt to revive its flagging fortunes, Renault launched two cars which were to become phenomenally successful – the Renault 4 and Renault 8 in 1961 and 1962 respectively. The 4 in particular was to continue in production until 1992. Both cars continued Renault's motor racing traditions with great success in rallying, a tradition which was further upheld by collaborations with the Alpine company (which most famously produced the Renault-powered Alpine A110). As well as the 4 and 8, the company achieved success with the more upmarket Renault 16 launched in 1966, which continued Renault's reputation for innovation by being the world's first hatchback larger than subcompact size.
The company's compact and economical Renault 5 model, launched in 1972, was another success, particularly in the wake of the 1973 energy crisis. The 5 remained in production until 1984 when it was replaced by the Super5. The formula was much the same however, and the Super5 inherited its styling lines from its father (however with a transversal engine, as opposed to the longitudinal engine inherited by the first generation Renault 5 from the Renault 4). Endangered like all of the motor industry by the energy crisis, during the mid seventies the already expansive company diversified further into other industries and continued to expand globally, including into South East Asia. The energy crisis also provoked Renault's attempt to reconquer the North American market; despite the Dauphine's success in the United States in the late 1950s, and an unsuccessful car-assembly project in Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, Québec, (1964-1972), Renault had virtually disappeared from North America by the 1970s.
However, in the early part of the decade, when the energy crisis-hit continent required smaller, more economical cars, Renault began to make plans to return through a collaborative partnership with the American manufacturer American Motors Corporation (AMC). From 1962 to 1967, Renault assembled complete knock down (CKD) kits of the Rambler Classic sedans in its factory in Belgium. Renault did not have large or luxury cars in its product line and the "Rambler Renault" was aimed as an alternative to the Mercedes-Benz "Fintail" cars. Similar to the fate of some of these Mercedes cars at the time, many of these "American" Renaults finished their life working as taxis. Later, Renault would continue to make and sell a hybrid of AMC's Rambler American and Rambler Classic called the Renault Torino in Argentina (sold through IKA-Renault). Renault partnered with AMC on other projects, such as development of a rotary concept engine in the late 60s, and would eventually own AMC in 1980.
This was one of a series of collaborative ventures undertaken by Renault in the late 1960s and 1970s, as the company established subsidiaries in Eastern Europe, most notably Dacia in Romania, and South America (many of which remain active to the present day) and forged technological cooperation agreements with Volvo and Peugeot (for instance, for the development of the PRV V6 engine, which was used in Renault 30, Peugeot 604, and Volvo 260 in the late 1970s.).
In the mid 1960s an Australian arm, Renault Australia, was setup in Heidelberg, Melbourne, which would close in 1981. Interestingly Renault Australia did not just concentrate on Renaults, they also built and marketed Peugeots as well. From 1977, they assembled Ford Cortina station wagons under contract- the loss of this contract led to the closure of the factory.
In North America, Renault formed a partnership with AMC, loaning AMC operating capital and buying a small percentage of the company in late 1979. Jeep was keeping AMC afloat until new products, particularly the XJ Cherokee, could be launched. When the bottom fell out of the 4x4 truck market in early 1980 AMC was in danger of going bankrupt. To protect its investment Renault bailed AMC out with a big cash influx -- at the price of a controlling interest in the company -- 47.5%. Renault quickly replaced some top positions in AMC with their own people.
The Renault-AMC partnership also resulted in the marketing of Jeep vehicles in Europe. Some consider the Jeep XJ Cherokee as a joint AMC/Renault project since some early sketches of the XJ series was done as a collaboration of both Renault and AMC engineers (AMC insisted that the XJ Cherokee was designed by AMC personnel; however, a former Renault engineer designed the Quadra-Link front suspension for the XJ series). The Jeep also used wheels and unique rocking seats from Renault. Part of AMC's overall strategy when the partnership was first discussed was to save manufacturing cost by using Renault sourced parts when practical, and some engineering expertise. This led to the improvement of the venerable AMC in-line six -- a Renault/Bendix based port electronic fuel injection system (usually called Renix) that transformed it into a modern, competitive powerplant with a jump from 110 hp to 177 hp with less displacement (4.0L vs. 4.2L).
The Renault-AMC marketing effort in passenger cars was not as successful compared to the popularity for Jeep vehicles. This was because by the time the Renault range was ready to become established in the American market, the second energy crisis was over, taking with it much of the trend for economical, compact cars. Renault sold some interesting models in the USA in the 1980s, especially the simple looking but fun Renault Alliance GTA (Renault 9) and GTA convertible – a real automatic-top convertible with a simple but clean euro-style design featuring a gently sloping hood, as well as a 2.0 L engine - big for a car of its class; and the ahead-of-its-time Renault Fuego coupe; Renault sold other models in the US during the 1980s. However, Renault sold AMC to Chrysler in 1987 after the assassination of Renault’s chairman, Georges Besse. The Renault Medallion (Renault 21 in Europe) sedan and wagon was sold from 1987 to 1989 through Jeep-Eagle dealerships. Jeep-Eagle was the new division Chrysler created out of the former American Motors. However, Renault products were no longer imported into the United States after 1989.
A completely new full-sized 4-door sedan, the Eagle Premier, was developed during the partnership between AMC and Renault. The Premier design, as well as its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Bramalea, Ontario, Canada, were the starting point for the sleek LH sedans such as the Eagle Vision and Chrysler 300M.
In the late seventies and early eighties Renault increased its involvement in motorsport, with novel inventions such as turbochargers in their Formula One cars. The company's road car designs were revolutionary also – the Renault Espace was one of the first minivans and was to remain the most well-known minivan in Europe for at least the next two decades. The second-generation Renault 5, the European Car Of The Year-winning Renault 9, and the most luxurious Renault yet, the 25 were all released in the early 1980s, building Renault's reputation, but at the same time the company suffered from poor product quality which reflected badly in the image of the brand and the ill-fated Renault 14 is seen by many as the culmination of these problems in the early 1980s.
Although its cars were somewhat successful both on the road and on the track, Renault was losing a billion francs a month and reported a deficit of 12.5 billion in 1984. The government intervened and Georges Besse was installed as chairman; he set about cutting costs dramatically, selling off many of Renault's non-core assets, withdrawing almost entirely from motorsports, and laying off many employees. This succeeded in halving the deficit by 1986, but he was murdered by the left wing terrorist group Action Directe in November 1986. He was replaced by Raymond Lévy, who continued along the same lines as Besse, slimming down the company considerably with the result that by the end of 1987 the company was more or less financially stable.
A revitalised Renault launched several successful new cars in the early 1990s, including the phenomenally successful 5 replacement the Clio, the second-generation Espace, the innovative Twingo, the Laguna, and the 19. In mid-1990s introduced successor to R19,Renault Mégane, was the first car ever to achieve a 4-star rating, the highest at the time, in EuroNCAP crash test in passenger safety. In 1998 Renault introduced Mégane Scénic, a completely new class of cars, a compact monospace with a footprint of a regular Mégane. The return to success on the road was matched by a return to success on the racetrack – Renault-powered cars won the Formula One World Championship in 1992, 1993, 1996 and 1997 with Williams, and in 1995 with Benetton.
Throughout this period, Renault's European advertising famously made extensive use of Robert Palmer's song "Johnny And Mary." The earlier television advertisements used Palmer's original version, while a range of special recordings in different styles were produced during the 1990s; most famously Martin Taylor's acoustic interpretation which he released on his album Spirit of Django. Taylor recorded many alternate versions for Renault; the last being in 1998 for the launch of the all-new Renault Clio.
It was eventually decided that the company's state-owned status was detrimental to its growth, and Renault was privatised in 1996. This new freedom allowed the company to venture once again into Eastern Europe and South America, including a new factory in Brazil and upgrades for the infrastructure in Argentina and Turkey. It also meant the end of the aforementioned successful Formula 1 campaign.
In the twenty-first century, Renault was to foster a reputation for distinctive, outlandish design. The second generation of the Laguna and Mégane featured ambitious, angular designs which turned out to be highly successful. Less successful were the company's more upmarket models. The Avantime, a bizarre coupé/ multi-purpose mix vehicle, sold very poorly and was quickly discontinued while the luxury Vel Satis model did not sell as well as hoped. However, the design inspired the lines of the second generation Mégane, the most successful car of the maker. As well as its distinctive styling, Renault was to become known for its car safety; currently, it's the car manufacturer with the largest number of models achieving the maximum 5 star rating in EuroNCAP crash tests. The Laguna was the first Renault to achieve a 5 star rating; in 2004 the Modus was the first to achieve this rating in its category.
The government of France owns 15.7 per cent of the company. Louis Schweitzer has been the Chairman of Renault since 1992 and CEO from 1992 to 2005. In 2005, Carlos Ghosn (also CEO of Nissan) became Renault's CEO, with Louis Schweitzer staying on as Chairman.
Renault owns Samsung Motors (Renault Samsung Motors) and Dacia, as well as retaining a minority (but controlling) stake (20%) in the Volvo Group. (Volvo passenger cars are now a subsidiary of the Ford Motor Company). Renault bought 99% of the Romanian company Dacia, thus returning after 30 years, in which time the Romanians built over 2 milions cars, mostly Renault 8, 12 and 20.
Signed on March 27, 1999, the Renault-Nissan Alliance is the first of its kind involving a Japanese and a French company, each with its own distinct corporate culture and brand identity, linked through cross-shareholding. Renault has a stake of 44.4 per cent in Japanese automaker Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. while Nissan in turn has a 15 per cent stake (non-voting) in Renault.
For 2004 Renault reported a 43% rise in net income to 3.5 billion € and 5.9% operating margin, of which Nissan contributed 1,767 million €. The Group (Renault, Dacia, Renault Samsung Motors) posted a 4.2% increase in worldwide sales to a record 2,489,401 vehicles, representing a global market share of 4.1%. Renault retained its position as the leading brand in Europe with 1.8 million passenger cars and light commercial vehicles sold and market share of 10.8%.
The Renault-Nissan Alliance represents more than 9.8% of the worldwide market (5.74% for Nissan & 4.04% for the Renault group) with sales of 3,597,748 (Nissan) and 2,531,500 (Renault Group), placing the alliance 4th after GM, Toyota, and Ford in 2005.
The marketing success was also matched by success of their return to the Formula 1 circuit as a manufacturer again after buying the Benetton team. The team went on to win both World Drivers and Constructors championships in 2005 and 2006 ahead of the vastly more experienced Ferrari and McLaren teams.
Renault is exhibiting a Hi-Flex Clio 1.6 16v at the 2006 Paris International Agricultural Show. This vehicle, which addresses the Brazilian market, features Renault-developed flexible-fuel engine technology, with a highly versatile engine that can run on fuel containing petrol and ethanol in any proportion (0% to 100% of either).
On June 30, 2006 the media reported that General Motors convened an emergency board meeting to discuss a proposal by shareholder Kirk Kerkorian to form an alliance between GM and Renault-Nissan. The hastily arranged meeting suggests that GM's board is treating Kerkorian's proposal with urgency. Coincidentally, unsubstantiated rumours have been circulating about Renault's possible return to the U.S. market. There is speculation that a GM-Renault-Nissan alliance could pave the way for Renault's return to the U.S. market, since GM could eliminate some of its less profitable brands, and offer the owners of dealerships that would otherwise close Renault dealerships.
However, GM CEO Richard Wagner felt that an alliance would benefit Renault's shareholders more than those of GM, and that GM should receive some compensation for it. This did not sit well with Renault; subsequently, talks between GM and Renault ended on October 4, 2006.