The news that a recreation of the Renault 5 is getting closer to being given the green-light should come as no surprise. Renault is struggling to cut through in the European market and has suffered particularly in the British new car market, where its market share has collapsed over the last decade. Any sharp new small concept that can cut through the fog of retail war would be most welcome for the brand and its dealers.
Renault has long prided itself on its Frenchness but, as one senior company boss recently admitted recently, the company might have to become ‘German first and French second’.
Frenchness in the global fashion world continues to be a plus and, indeed, a recent BBC Newsnight report claimed that around half of all the adult women in Tokyo owned a Louis Vuitton handbag.
But replicating the success of extraordinary LVMH luxury goods group (a kind of fashion VW, which spans everything from Moet & Chandon to Dior to TAG Heuer) in the automotive world is proving very difficult.
It’s not that the French haven’t tried. The bustle-back Megane and cars such as the Vel-Satis were meant to reflect and take benefit form France’s superiority in the fashion world. Citroen’s designers also admit that the ‘jewellery’ on the inside and outside of the DS5 is meant to be reminiscent of an expensive French handbag.
The whole point of this effort, of course, is to make French cars more desirable and capable of demanding higher showroom prices and better residual values. But it seems that parallels with the fashion world will, ultimately, not work.
After all, a car is very complex and what the industry calls ‘Quality, Reliability and Dependability’ is the entry-requirement for customer confidence. Renault’s collapse in quality after the turn of the century has, even now, seriously dented the brand. In the fashion world, customer satisfaction is a little easier to engineer. There’s little chance of your Hermes handbag blowing a head gasket or suffering a major electrical failure.
So I’d expect the new Renault 5 - perhaps they’ll brand it Supercinq - to major on freshness of looks and individuality, a kind of affordable Euro-chic, rather than an attempt to encapsulate the spirit of the Champs Elysees.
If they want inspiration for a new kind of international Frenchness, perhaps Renault’s designers should Eurostar over to West London, where there are so many youngish, internationally-minded, French professionals, that London could, apparently, qualify as the seventh largest French city in the EU.
The lesson Renault has surely learnt is that while overt Frenchness is at a premium in food, wine and fashion, when it comes to cars, overt Frenchness just makes too many new car buyers nervous.