European Leading Women
Name: Agneta Dahlgren
Title: Design director C-segment and electric vehicles
Company: Renault
Location: Guyancourt, France
Age: 49
Family: Husband; 3 daughters ages 23, 19 and 13
Born: Ulricehamn, Sweden
Nationality: Swedish
Languages: French, Swedish, English
Education: Master's degree in industrial design, University of Technology of Compiegne, Compiegne, France; master's degree in industrial engineering, Lulea University of Technology, Lulea, Sweden

Agneta Dahlgren

What attracted you to the auto industry?

The complexity of a vehicle makes it one of the most intricate products ever made. It also makes the auto industry very interesting because it has an effect on society. Industrial design in the automotive industry deals with emotional perceptions that take into account aspects such as ergonomics, technology, security, sociology, connectivity, functionalities and, of course, aesthetics. It also needs to deal with questions regarding the future of mobility and its effect on the environment.

First automotive job:

I did an internship at Renault in 1991 where I worked on the strategic design identity of the Renault and Volvo brands. It was about exploring the cultural DNA of each brand. The study was called Water & Wine.

What was your big break?

I really loved managing design development for the Renault Zoe electric car. We were a diverse team of men and women from different countries with different backgrounds. We were all convinced that we were re-inventing the DNA of the car and initiating an industry breakthrough. The idea of creating the first mass-produced, affordable electric car was really outstanding for all of us.

What is the major challenge you have faced in your career?

That would be my current job. I’m managing the design development of five to 10 cars simultaneously with the objective of providing differentiation while maintaining strong brand consistency.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?

I have been fortunate to meet many talented people throughout my career who have influenced me and my work. Current Renault design senior vice president Laurens van den Acker is certainly one of them. He is a very inspiring person.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry?

In general, I believe there is still prejudice to overcome. For example, we still often ask if something is adequate for a boy or a girl to do. Breaking these barriers and bringing about more equality is a priority. In the automotive industry there should be more done to let women know that this is a place for them. Role models and mentoring will help build bridges and show women what is possible. We should also encourage diversity. I believe a diverse team is the one with the best chances to develop new ideas and find answers to most customer needs.

I don’t think the car industry should adapt to just female workers’ needs because I’m not sure there are specific female needs. However, maybe we should focus more on parent needs so everyone can find a balance between their professional and family lives. I encourage my younger male colleagues to leave early, even to work part time, to get the proper life-work balance because I support equality between men and women in general.

What’s your favorite weekend activity?

I love being with my family and friends. I also like to run.

What keeps you awake at night?

I’m a good sleeper except when I suffer from jetlag.

Name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know.

I have played soccer for many years. I like sports where individual performance is linked to the team’s performance. Everyone plays a specific position and does his or her best to get the team to win. Soccer is another area where women need to be given more support and recognition. 

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

I would choose Harley Earl, who was chief designer at General Motors in the 1940s and ’50s. He was a true pioneer. In 1958 he hired 10 female designers and let each of them design a car that was presented at a specific car show. There were a lot of new ideas such as dedicated storage areas for umbrellas and, amazingly, integrated phones. What’s important to emphasize is that these women designed cars for everybody and not only for women. Do men design cars for men, or the French for French people? Maybe in some ways, but not exclusively. Today’s customers are global, which makes having diverse teams working on cars more important than ever.

If I had it to do all over again, I would

Do everything the same way again. 

When and where was your last vacation?

In April we went to Tuscany. In August we visited Japan.

Name one talent you wish you had.

I would love to be able to play a musical instrument well.

Best advice you’ve ever received?

The only thing that is certain is that you will fail if you never try.

What advice would you give your child?

Do your best in every situation, but don’t forget to have fun along the way and that life is not only in front of you but all around.

If you were a car, what car would you be?

I would be the very latest Renault Scenic. It’s a midsize, comfortable, functional car that is up to date and intelligent, with a modern look and ideal proportions.

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