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(established 1899)

The Renault Brothers Marcel and Fernand founded this leading French automobile company in 1899. The early cars, designed by their brother Louis, began winning road races from 1899 onwards, the resultant publicity developing a demand for the company's cars. Renault soon developed a sales network and, in 1905, moved from the craft to industrial production of cars in order to cope with large orders for taxis in Paris and New York. By the outbreak of the First World War the company employed about 5,000. However, the hiatus of the First World War led to a shift in the balance of power in the global production of cars. France was overtaken by the United States as the leading producer: the impact of the Ford philosophy, backed by the introduction of its moving assembly line and accessible prices without the interruption of war saw a significant shift. Both Renault and Citroën sought to learn from American methods, with Citroën leading the way. In the 1920s Renault diversified into the production of buses, commercial vehicles, and tractors. The company also built a large factory at Billancourt near Paris in order, like Ford at his Baton Rouge complex in Michigan in the USA, to control as many aspects of car production—from raw materials to component parts—within a single company. Assembly lines were introduced at Renault and the factory completed in 1937. Renault automobile designs followed fairly conventional lines until the later 1920s when external consultants Hibbard & Darrin were brought in for the Reinastella range of 1928. In common with other manufacturers in Europe and the United States, streamlined forms also made their impact on the Renault range in the 1930s, as seen in the Viva Grand Sport of 1934 designed by Marcel Riffart. Three years later Renault launched its first attempt at a people's car, the streamlined Juvaquatre, affordable and with hydraulic brakes. Nonetheless, technological imperative rather than style generally informed the outlook of Renault's body design department, directed by Roger Barthaud. The Second World War proved a difficult time for the company as it was closely associated with the occupying Germans and, as a result, was nationalized in 1945. In 1946 Renault launched its 4CV, a symbol of mass motoring in France, with the popular Dauphine following a decade later, with the rather box‐like, functional Renault 4 of 1961 providing a design response to the Suez crisis. During the 1950s Renault had begun working with the Italian automobile body design company Ghia and also set up a centre for styling. In charge of this from 1960 to 1963 was Philippe Charbonneaux, who came from a design background that included General Motors. Gaston Juchet, who had arrived at Renault in 1958, was in charge of styling from 1963 to 1975 and worked with a distinguished team of designers including Michel Boué (1936–71), the designer of the highly successful, stylish yet practical R5 (1972–92), and Robert Opron, designer of the R14. As had been the case in the late 1950s, links with Italian designers and stylists such as Ital Design were maintained and fostered. Opron, who had arrived at Renault with a background at Simca and Citroën, took charge of the Style Centre from 1975 to 1984 and was ably assisted by Gaston Juchet (applied style) and Jacques Nocher (advanced styling). Opron also extended the range of design consultants used by the company, linking with figures such as Terence Conran and Mario Bellini. Models at this time included the Renault 25 (1985) and the Renault Espace (1984). The design of the latter was innovative, shifting ideas of family motoring away from the conventional format of a four‐seater towards a more convivial, flexible, and relaxing configuration. After Opron left for Fiat in 1984, Juchet again took charge of styling for another three years until the arrival of Patrick Le Quément, who became director of industrial design in 1988. Models introduced at this time included the Clio (1991), the Twingo (1992), and the Scenic (1991) which, in parallel with the earlier Espace, initiated mini‐MPV (multi‐purpose vehicle) design thinking. In 1992, Le Quément, whose design credentials had been established previously at Simca and Ford, received the Grand Prix National de la Création Industrielle (established 1985), awarded by the Minister of Culture.


Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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