It owns the Romanian automaker Dacia and the Korean automaker Renault Samsung Motors and Carlos Ghosn is the current CEO. The company's most successful car to date is the Renault Clio, and its core market is France.
The company is well known for numerous revolutionary designs, security technologies, and motor racing.
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 Ferenc Szisz winning the first ever Grand Prix motor racing event in a Renault AK 90CV 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. 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 (1914–18) branched out into ammunition, military airplanes and vehicles such as the revolutionary Renault FT-17 tank. Company's military designs were so successful 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.
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 3180 cc six cylinder motor provided a formula that went through to the Second World War.
The "de Grand Luxe Renaults", that is any with over 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 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 1930s 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.
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 R8 continued Renault's traditional rear-engined layout, but the R4 started the revolution to front engined/front wheel drive. R4 production continued until 1992. The larger rear-engined Renault 10 followed the success of the R8, but was the last of the rear-engined Renaults. The company achieved success with the more modern and 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 smaller Renault 6 followed, in the style of the R16.
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, Quebec, (1964–72), Renault as a stand-alone brand, began to disappear from North America at the end of the '70s.
Throughout the decades Renault developed a collaborative partnership with Rambler and its successor 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 set up in Heidelberg, Melbourne, the company would produce and assemble models from the R8, R10, R12, R16, sporty R15, R17 coupe's to the R18 and R20, soon the company 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 to 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.
One exception was the Renault Alliance (Renault 9), which debuted for the 1983 model year. Assembled at AMC's plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Alliance was an instant hit with more economically minded buyers. Motor Trend gave its domestic Car of The Year award for 1983 to the Alliance, a surprising pick to many. The Alliance's 72% U.S. content allowed it to qualify as a domestic vehicle, making it the first car with a foreign nameplate to win the award. (In 2000, Motor Trend did away with separate awards for domestic and imported vehicles.)
Renault sold some interesting models in the U.S. in the 1980s, especially the simple-looking but fun Renault Alliance GTA 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, which generated some excitement. The Alliance was followed by the Encore (Renault 11), an Alliance-based hatchback. This burst of success in the United States proved to be short-lived, though.
Renault's Wisconsin-built and imported models quickly became the target of customer complaints for poor quality, and sales plummeted. Eventually, 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. Rumors have since persisted about Renault's return to the U.S. market; all of them have been unfounded.
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 the mid-1990s the successor to the R19, the 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.
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 was 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 million cars, which primarily consisted of the 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 percent in The Japanese automaker Nissan, while Nissan in turn has a 15 percent 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 holds 9.8% of the worldwide market (5.74% for Nissan and 4.04% for the Renault group) with sales of 3,597,748 (Nissan) and 2,531,500 (Renault Group), placing the alliance fourth after GM, Toyota, and Ford, 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 was treating Kerkorian's proposal with urgency. Coincidentally, unsubstantiated rumours have been circulating about Renault's possible return to the U.S. market. There has been 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 Renault franchises to dealerships that would otherwise close.
However, GM CEO Richard Wagoner 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.
On February 29, 2008, Renault acquired a blocking stake in the largest Russian automaker VAZ. For a long time needing to modernize its technology, VAZ was seeking a strategic partnership since the late nineties. Its owners tried to form an alliance with various foreign auto manufacturers, such as General Motors. Most of these attempts weren't all that successful, however, and generally fell through.
Renault was in talks with VAZ on and off since 2005, initially insisting on CKD assembly of Logan cars on its facilities, while VAZ intended to keep its own Lada brand and only wished to acquire a new platform and engine. After several rounds of talks, between which VAZ also sought alliance with Fiat and Magna, Renault agreed to the partnership under terms not unlike the earlier Nissan deal.
Renault and VAZ major stockholder, state corporation Rosoboronexport, are to form a holding, jointly owning 50% share in VAZ, with the French side receiving several key positions in the new management structure, such as Chief Operational Officer, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Engineer. In return, Renault is to supply a new platform for the Lada brand and assist in plant modernization.
On October 7, 2008, the Wall Street Journal reported that a Renault executive said the company was interested in acquiring or partnering with Chrysler, which is owned by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. On October 11, 2008, the New York Times reported that General Motors, Nissan and Renault had all been in discussions over the past month with Cerberus about acquiring Chrysler.
The same year, Renault and Nissan engaged talkes with General Motors to study a potential alliance. This approach was finally abandoned due to the fact that GM asked for money as "entry ticket" from Renault. Renault F1 win the constructors world championship as well as the drivers championship for the second year in succession.
The first popular Renault motor vehicles to achieve sustained sales success in the United Kingdom were the R5 mini-car and R18, both of which attained six-digit sales figures during the late 1970s and early 1980s, although they failed to achieve anything like the volumes of established carmakers Ford, Vauxhall and Austin Rover.
Renault enjoyed a huge rise in popularity among British buyers on the arrival of the Clio supermini in early 1991. It was regularly among Britain's most popular cars each year during the 1990s and its successor (launched in 1998 alongside the final installment of the successful 'Nicole and Papa' advertising campaign), where the original model left off. The sedan/saloon version, called Thalia, was not launched in the UK.
Renault went from strength to strength in the UK during the 2000s following the introduction of its distinctively-styled Mégane hatchback in November 2002. Any suggestions that its quirky styling would not fit in with the tastes of British buyers were quickly confounded in 2005 when it was the fourth best selling car in Britain. Renault also helps produce cars known now as Nissan.
In 2006, it was the third most popular brand of car in the United Kingdom. Only Ford and Vauxhall sold more units.
In 2007 Renault UK lost a US$2million law suit against an independent distributor after the High Court found that Renault employees had exaggerated in their evidence to the Court As a measure of the Court's displeasure with Renault's attempt to frame the distributor, legal costs were awarded against Renault on an 'indemnity' basis, an unusual decision requiring the car maker to pay all of the distributor's legal costs (normally in the UK only a proportion of legal costs are awarded to a succesful litigant in a law suit).
Renault Laguna was the first medium-size car to obtain five-star rating, as well as the Modus and Megane in its own category.
The electric cars, to be made in Europe, will run on a battery developed by Nissan and Japan's NEC and will be available in 2011. A prototype is already on the road in Israel and various models will be sold by Renault and Nissan. The car would cost the same or less than comparable gasoline engine autos and would have a lifetime warranty. Renault want mass market 10,000 to 20,000 cars a year in Israel.
Carlos Ghosn says the electric version of the Mégane saloon that Renault is building for Israel will come with a lifetime warranty, and payment will follow the model established by the mobile-phone industry. After buying the car, owners will subscribe to a battery-replacement and charging plan based on their anticipated mileage. Recharging will be done at one of 500,000 spots that Project Better Place will build and maintain.
Renault is also currently collaborating with Project Better Place to produce a network of all-electric vehicles and thousands of charging stations in Denmark. The company hopes to achieve this with the use of lithium-ion technology. The plan is said to be operational by 2011.
The Renault-Nissan group is in the PHEV Research Center. Nissan is also hedging its bets by developing both a "parallel hybrid" system (akin to that found in the Toyota Prius) and a plug-in "series hybrid" similar to the Chevy Volt. But it favours the all-electric approach, even though it will be a tough sell, says Mr Lane. As for Mr Ghosn, he has no doubts. "We must have zero-emission vehicles," he says. "Nothing else will prevent the world from exploding."
Serge Yoccoz is the electric vehicle project director .
At the 2008 Fleet World Honours, Renault was rewarded with the prestigious Environment Award. The judges in the event were made up experts in the industry including members of the leasing industry, fleet managers, representitives from residual value guides, and Fleet World’s editorial team. The chairman of Judges, George Emmerson, commented, “This was the most hotly contested category in the history of the Fleet World Honours, such is the clamour for organizations’ green credentials to be recognized. There were some very impressive entries, but the panel felt that Renault’s impressive range of low-emission vehicles was the most tangible, and the most quantifiable.
Motorsport has long been recognised as an effective marketing tool for automobile manufacturers. In the late seventies and early eighties, Renault began to involve itself more heavily in motorsport, setting up a dedicated motorsport division called Renault Sport, and winning the Le Mans 24 Hours (with the Renault Alpine A442, built in collaboration with newly-acquired Alpine) while achieving success in both rallying (with the Renault 5 Turbo) and Formula One. Initially, Renault's entry into Formula One in 1977 was ridiculed when the team's first design included such curiosities as a turbocharger. However, the team was to win their first race on home soil in Dijon a mere two years later and by the early eighties, every front-running Formula One team used turbochargers.
Renault also took over the Benetton F1 team in 2001, and quickly became very competitive, Fernando Alonso winning Renault's first race in its second incarnation at the 2003 Hungarian Grand Prix. 2004 saw the Renault team finish a close third in the Constructors' Championship and in 2005 the team won both Constructors' and Drivers' titles (with Fernando Alonso). In 2006 Renault repeated its success of the previous year, again claiming both the Constructors' and Drivers' titles (again with Fernando Alonso before his departure to McLaren in 2007).
Questions have been raised regarding Renault's commitment to its Formula One team, particularly with the appointment of Carlos Ghosn as CEO. However at the 2005 French Grand Prix Ghosn set out his policy regarding the company's involvement in motorsport:
In 2006 Carlos Ghosn finally announced that the team would stay in F1 in the long term (at least until 2012) putting an end to the rumors.
The Renault 12 (1970), Renault 5 (1972), Renault 20 (1976), Renault 25 (1985) and Renault Laguna (2002) have all achieved runners-up in spot in the competition. Renaults most recent models are well known for their safety, all but 4 of the current models have achieved the maximum 5-star rating by the EuroNCAP crash-test assessment programme. Renault has regularly topped the French car sales charts, fighting off fierce competition from Citroën and Peugeot.
The inaugural Australian Wheels Car of the Year award was won by the R8 in 1963 (particularly in consideration to its four wheel disc brake system), and Renault won again in 1970 when the Renault 12 won the prestigious award.