Renault design boss knows which line matters most

Laurens van den Acker, pictured with the current Clio subcompact. He says the success of the car gave him "a bit of breathing room.”
Peter Sigal is a France-based correspondent with Automotive News Europe.
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PARIS -- When discussing automotive design, the word “line” gets used often. We talk about a vehicle’s beltline, roofline and the sightlines from the driver’s seat. Attractive cars have “nice lines.”

Renault design chief Laurens van den Acker has his own take on the word.

“There’s an expression, ‘The most beautiful line is the line of a rising sales chart,’ ” he told me when we recently talked about the styling challenges he and his team face as they try to integrate all the sensors, processors, cameras and other gadgets into next-generation models.

Van den Acker has made sure Renault’s sales chart line has been heading in the right direction. Last year, Renault rose to No. 2 on Europe’s ranking of sales by brand behind Volkswagen. It was fourth in 2012, which is the year van den Acker started his overhaul of the French company’s lineup. He started with the Clio subcompact and ended last month with the European introduction of the Koleos midsize SUV.

Renaults now have a strong visual identity, starting with a bold grille and oversized “lozenge” emblem, pulled-in flanks, prominent haunches, and a C-shaped taillight signature.

As part of the interview, I asked van den Acker what he thought were the most significant or disruptive designs from the 2012 to 2017 product cycle. He singled out five models.

    • “The Clio was important because it put us back in the heart of the B-segment,” he said. “It was important to establish our new direction and it was also a sales success, so this gave me a bit of breathing room.”

    • With that breathing room, Renault produced the Captur, the subcompact crossover based on the Clio that quickly became a dominant player in the hot segment. “It was not the first small crossover, but it has become one of the most successful ones,” van den Acker said. “I don’t think we thought we could sell close to 250,000 of them from scratch, and [do so] without cannibalizing Clio sales.”

    • The next car he mentioned was a bit of a surprise: the Talisman. Aren’t buyers abandoning midsize sedans and station wagons like the Talisman for crossovers and SUVs? Perhaps, he said, but “for me, these types of cars are nearly a rite of passage. To do a good D-segment sedan is very hard because there are a lot of codes that you need to respect.” More than just a replacement for the Laguna, the Talisman doesn’t look out of place among offerings from premium brands, he said.

    • He also mentioned the Kwid, a tiny crossover “that gave us a foot on the ground in India.” Renault is now the best-selling European brand in India.

    • The last model he highlighted was the Scenic, a once slab-sided people mover that is now a muscular minivan/SUV crossover that can carry five or seven passengers. “It's courageous to do a sexier minivan with 20-inch wheels,” he said. “I’m still pinching myself that we managed to get this on the road.”

Almost as sexy, perhaps, as Renault’s upward sales momentum.

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