The Avantime luxury coupe was designed by Renault but will be built by Matra Automobile, the French assembler that was also responsible for managing the project.
Jean-Luc Brossard, who works for Matra and is project director for the Avantime, has seen the project through from its inception.
The contract between Renault and Matra was signed in July 1998 and the exterior freeze of the Avantime was fixed in December 1998.
The interior was frozen in June 1999.
A pre-production version of the Avantime was shown at the Frankfurt auto show in September 1999.
The Avantime was shown early in its development so that people could get used to the radical styling.
'The styling of the Avantime is very important,' Brossard says. But 'it was difficult for consumers to accept the styling,' he adds.
At consumer clinics in 1998 people were surprised by the colors and the rear end, according to Brossard. He says the rear end was toned down and people have become more used to the look of the car.
'Today, people are not shocked when they go to an auto show and see the Avantime,' he says.
Development of the car did take six months longer than expected.
When tested in clinics it became clear that the Avantime would need better quality materials and improved functionality for the target customer group, says Brossard.
Systems were upgraded to meet demand for features such as GPS (global positioning system) and multiplex wiring.
In addition, Matra and its suppliers had to do extra work on the seats and the wide doors, which were not initially satisfactory.
The doors were very complex, says Brossard - too complex to give out to a single supplier as a module.
The Avantime is only offered as a two-door, to separate it from the Vel Satis. But the doors have to offer good rear seat access.
The Avantime is built on the floorpan of the current Espace full-size minivan, with which it shares many components. For example, the air conditioning and steering column are a carryover from the Espace.
Development costs were kept to FF1.3 billion (E200 million), of which plant tooling was FF150 million and tooling at suppliers about FF350 million.
Assembly time is currently around 27 hours, but that will be reduced by about five hours when production of the current Espace ceases, says Brossard.
Matra currently assembles the Espace and Avantime on the same production line at its plant in Romorantin, France. But the new Espace will be assembled by Renault in Sandouville along with the Laguna II and Vel Satis, which will allow the Romorantin line to speed up.
The development team for the Avantime was very small, fewer than 100 people.
A joint Renault/Matra managing committee steered the program. Matra was responsible for technical development, purchasing and quality, and Renault was responsible for styling, product design and marketing.
A joint purchasing committee met monthly to compare prices and look at synergies with Renault's range.
Between 10 and 15 percent of the components by value are common with the Laguna II or Vel Satis. These include engines, manual gearbox and multiplex wiring system.
The team worked closely with about 15 key supplier partners, most of them long-term partners of Matra on the Espace.