TEN MONTHS after design freeze, the Clio faced a wrenching change in design aims. Renault's last major model, the Megane, had come in on cost, but competitors had moved the goal posts.
A price war in France forced Renault Chairman Louis Schweitzer to order a cut in the Clio's production cost target by 15 percent.
'We had to change totally,' said Clio product manager Pierre Beuzit. 'And it was not possible to change content because competition is hard in this segment.'
Beuzit believes the ambitious target drew the best out of his team. 'If you ask for 5 percent, you don't get it. If you ask for 15 percent you do, and some more. It's special, people feel something is changing.'
Changes in the development process made the cost cutting possible, said Beuzit. One innovation was early input on likely specifications for the major markets. This was integrated directly into development.
Another major change was a bigger and earlier input from suppliers. 'We brought in the suppliers in 1993, before the definition of the project goals,' said Beuzit. 'We defined the cahier de charge - product requirements and goals in terms of cost, investment and so on - with the suppliers.'
For the first time this included styling elements. Suppliers were expected to consider the whole vehicle. It was also possible, for the first time, for suppliers to modify the perimeter of the part they were working on.
For example, Plastic Omnium developed the dashboard with Renault.
'Someone had the idea of integrating the air-pipes for the heating system to reinforce the dashboard. They negotiated directly with Valeo, which was developing the air conditioning systems, and made the change,' said Beuzit.
These processes have fed into a total renovation of the final assembly operations at Flins, the Clio's lead plant.
The new line is on one level, not two, although it rises and falls to optimize the working height. It is also about 30 percent shorter.
Renault has developed a free-hand assembly system. The main line is accompanied by a moving line for operators working on the cars, so they keep pace with the vehicles.
More modules are assembled off-line. This is mainly done by Renault employees, but Plastic Omnium assembles the dashboard and the door modules in the works area. It is the first time a supplier has worked inside a Renault plant.
In addition, trucks supplying parts now deliver to eight points on the final assembly line, instead of just one. This reduces stocks and the distance the parts have to move within the plant.
The new body-in-white shop is based on a Toyota flexible assembly system and uses simpler, more flexible tools.
Production time has been reduced by 30 percent compared with an old Clio with the same content.
The Flins assembly line was running at nearly full speed by the end of March, three months after the start of production. By comparison, it took Renault seven and a half months to ramp up production of the Megane at Douai, France.
Valladolid, which also builds the Twingo, will take four months to reach full production.
To ensure production readiness, Renault for the first time sent special teams to check suppliers and help them overcome potential problems.
Overall development time was down from over 50 months for the Megane to 40 months for the Clio. Beuzit said extensive testing of the car and its components prevented a further reduction. The new Clio shares some front-end parts with the Kangoo, but there is little carry-over from the Megane and none from the old Clio.
The choice of suppliers
Renault's new approach had implications for supplier selection. Suppliers had to agree the new ways of working and be able to deliver the technical support Renault required.
Most were willing to try, leaving Renault to decide whether the supplier had the management organization to deliver.
The result, said Beuzit, was a shift towards larger suppliers. Renault, for example, was happy with Reydel, instrument panel supplier on the old Clio.
However, for the new car, it suggested Reydel form an alliance with Plastic Omnium, the supplier for the complete dashboard. In the end Plastic Omnium bought Reydel.
Suppliers were chosen in two phases.
'In the first we selected two or three suppliers for each function. We said we wanted to develop this part with these sorts of goals,' said Beuzit. 'They had six months to a year.'
The result was not a final production component but a demonstration of technologies and processes.
Then Renault selected a single pilot supplier. 'The contract with them guaranteed 30 or 40 percent of the total volume,' said Beuzit. 'If they did better than the target, it could go up to 100 percent.'
If the results were not satisfactory, the initial supplier still got the guaranteed part of the contract. However, Renault would chose another firm to do the development, with modified goals. Beuzit said this was rare.
The most common problem was the location of supplier plants. The new Clio will be assembled in France, Spain and Slovenia. 'A lot of suppliers have no factories near Slovenia,' said Beuzit.
That means that they had to transfer technology to a partner in the region.
About 40 percent of the new Clio's suppliers were not involved with its predecessor. Overall levels of outsourcing have not changed.
The development of the Clio foreshadowed the way that Renault will work in its new technical center.
From mid-1994 to the end of 1996, the car's development team of 600 was separated from the functional departments.
The car was divided into 40 portions. Each portion was developed by a dedicated team which targeted such goals as cost, weight, investment and development time.