The chance to listen to Patrick le Quément speak very informally about his time as Director of Design at Renault was a great reminder of just how brave the previously conservative and state-owned company became following his appointment.
Le Quément inherited the Renault 19 and 21 models as well as the aging Renault 5, production had been transferred to Slovenia in 1990 following the launch of the not totally inspiring Clio. The Clio, which sold very well, used a strange but popular TV advertising campaign based on the relationship between ‘Papa’ and his supposed daughter ‘Nicole’. Nicole would sneak away in the family Clio whilst her father was pretending to be asleep; as soon as she was gone he would dash off to meet his mistress. You can watch this below. Nothing to do with Patrick but a lot to do with helping the slow sales at Renault.
One of the first things that le Quément did upon arriving at Renault was to instigate a series of show cars in order to push the public perception of Renault’s image ahead of that of the company’s competitors.
The first concept, the Laguna, was unveiled at the 1990 Paris auto show. A new surface language was presented to future customers who could then see that design direction develop through the 1994 Argos, before the bold Initiale concept of 1995 signaled a dramatic new futuristic style that was followed by the Vel Satis and Koleos concepts of 1998 and 1999.
Unlike many show cars the design language of these vehicles became production realities in the Vel Satis of 2001 and the Avantime launched that same year.
It now looks like an unwise decision to launch both vehicles at the same time since they were seen as competitors, although the Avantime — still one of my favorite design statements — was described by Renault as a ‘Coupéspace’ to differentiate it from the “four-door executive” Vel Satis sedan. The Vel Satis replaced the mind-numbingly dull Safrane that was launched in 1992 to deafening silence.
In 2002, Automobile Magazine said of the Avantime: “Le Quément is clearly an outside-the-box thinker, and the product of his vision is a fascinating exercise, but American buyers’ utilitarian expectations of the one-box shape just don’t jibe with the decadence and frivolity of a grand-touring coupe”. Even for a BMW X6 these days?