Laurens van der Acker would like Europe’s car buyers to fall in love with Renault. Van der Acker’s job, as Vice President of Renault Corporate Design, is to revive Renault’s design reputation after the gyrations of last decade.
It was a turbulent decade which started with the Avantime-led thrust upmarket and ended with the rather meek and mainstream Megane hatch.
‘Renault is not so loved as it was before. We need to be warm and human, and recently we were possibly too harsh. We need to be more emotional and to be more Latin. I think there was a lack of passion. People fell out of love with Renault, but it took a while for us to work that out. I think people want to like Renault and have fond memories of French cars.’
Today van der Acker and his 370-strong French design team are not only putting the final touches to the new 2012 Clio (described by Acker as ‘a key product’) and the next of the six ‘circle of life’ concepts, but they are also wrestling with the final form of the crucial Laguna and Espace replacements.
Van der Acker admits that the French enthusiasm for la différence can be taken too far - a clear reference to the bustle-backed Megane and angular Vel Satis executive hatchback. All he will reveal about the future of the company’s big cars is that they will err on the conservative side ‘staying within the accepted design codes’ and be ‘fantastically executed’.
The day of the glassy Espace family carrier also seems to be drawing to a close. Van der Acker says that cars like the Scenic and Espace reflected a shift within families from patriarchy to ‘more democratic roles’. The next shift, he predicts, will reflect the fact that today’s parents do not want a vehicle that makes them look as if their only task is looking after children.
I also asked van der Acker about his approach to the next-generation Twingo, which will share a rear-engined platform with Smart. With Renault’s history of rear-engined cars such as the Dauphine, surely the project presents a perfect opportunity to explore the company’s styling heritage?
‘We are not going to resist making reference to the Renault 8 or the Dauphine. We have room for both the future and to look back at the history. We’ll start with the future and when that’s been established, Renault has a treasure chest of icons. The Dauphine was cute and I think French brands can do cute again. We can’t ignore the success of something like the Fiat 500.’
What with establishing a modern design language for Renault, finally coming up with a successful formula for a new Laguna and Espace, nailing the styling of the next Clio and re-inventing the Twingo as a retro-rival for the Mini and Fiat 500, I’d say van der Acker and his team have got quite a lot on their collective plat.