Title: Project manager, Renault upper-medium and luxury cars
Previous title: Vice president, product prospection and project planning
Vel Satis is on a quest for Renault. Its mission is to restore the French carmaker's credibility outside southern Europe and conquer problem markets.
The road ultimately leads to North America, a market Renault left in 1987. But the Vel Satis' journey starts in Germany, says Renault Chairman Louis Schweitzer. 'I don't see us returning to the USA unless the Renault brand regains credibility worldwide,' he said. 'First, we will try to establish a more upmarket image for Renault in Germany.'
Germany is Europe's largest car market. It accounts for 48 percent of Europe's luxury-car sales. Renault wants to sell 50 Vel Satis models a day there.
'We need to sell those upmarket cars in Germany. If you can make it there, you can make it everywhere,' said Yves Dubreil, Renault's project manager for upper-medium and luxury cars. 'It gives you worldwide credibility.'
Unveiled in production form at the recent Geneva auto show, the Vel Satis is Renault's latest attempt to break into the high-margin luxury segment. The car is due for launch in early 2002.
Renault's previous top-of-the-range model, the Safrane, was a failure in Germany.
'We did manage to sell 50 Safranes a day in Germany, but that was only for one year,' said Dubreil.
Renault will take a different approach with the Vel Satis. Rather than try to emulate German carmakers BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, the Vel Satis will promote French elegance with deliberately distinctive styling.
Renault is targeting 'wealthy people who may have once held non-conformist views,' said Dubreil. 'A typical Vel Satis buyer could be someone who was an outspoken student in the 1960s, but who has since made good.'
But Renault did not want the Vel Satis' styling to be too unsettling. It kept its boldest design for the Avantime luxury coupe that goes on sale in the autumn.
'The Avantime is for anti-conformists, while Vel Satis is for non-conformists,' said Dubreil. The difference, he said, is that the former seeks to be unconventional, while the latter is effortlessly so.
Dubreil sees himself in the Vel Satis category, and says working at Renault has contributed to that attitude. 'Renault has long been like a Gallic village,' he said. 'In this kind of environment, you cannot be too much of a conformist.'
Vel Satis is certainly not in a conventional luxury car. It is substantially larger and taller than the Safrane it will replace, but its lines are lighter and more graceful than its muscular German competitors.
Dubreil worked hard to limit development costs of the Vel Satis to E530 million. Renault wants the car to be profitable, even though it has a planned lifetime volume of only 300,000 units through 2008.
The Vel Satis will be built at Renault's Sandouville plant in Normandy, France, which is dedicated to upmarket vehicles. The capacity of 1,900 units a day will be split between the Laguna II, which went on sale in January; the Vel Satis; and a replacement for the Espace minivan starting in 2002.
'We could move from 250 Vel Satis units a day to 300 without any problem,' said Dubreil.
Dubreil's vision for the Vel Satis prompted Renault Chairman Schweitzer to compare the car to the Guggenheim gallery in Bilbao, Spain, and the pyramid outside the Louvre in Paris. The Vel Satis is a symbol of modernity, Schweitzer said, adding: 'There can be nice museums without pediments and Doric columns.'