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Renault Cars – A Brief History

Renault cars are manufactured by Renault S.A., a French vehicle manufacturer producing cars, vans, buses, tractors, and trucks. The company is well known for numerous revolutionary designs, security technologies, and motor racing.

Producing cars since late 1898, the Renault corporation was founded in 1899 as Société Renault Frères by Louis Renault, his brothers Marcel and Fernand, and his friends Thomas Evert and Julian Wyer. Louis was a bright, aspiring young engineer who had already designed and built several models before teaming up with his brothers, who had honed their business skills working for their father’s textiles firm. While Louis handled design and production, Marcel and Fernand handled company management.

The very first of the Renault cars, the Renault Voiturette 1CV was sold to a friend of Louis’ father after giving him a test ride on December 24, 1898. The client was so impressed with the way the tiny car ran and how it climbed the streets that he bought it.

The brothers immediately recognised the publicity that could be obtained for their vehicles by participation in motor racing and Renault made itself known through achieving instant success in the first city-to-city races held in Switzerland, resulting in rapid expansion for the company. Both Louis and Marcel Renault raced company vehicles, but Marcel was killed in an accident during the 1903 Paris-Madrid race. Although Louis Renault never raced again, his company remained very involved, including their Renault AK 90CV winning the first ever Grand Prix motor racing event in 1906. Louis was to take full control of the company as the only remaining brother in 1906 when Fernand retired for health reasons.

The Renault reputation for innovation of Renault cars was fostered from very early on. In 1899, Renault launched the first production sedan car as well as patenting the first turbocharger.Renault manufactured taxis, buses and commercial cargo vehicles in the pre-war years, and during World War I (1914 – 1918) branched out into ammunition, military airplanes and vehicles such as the revolutionary Renault FT-17 tank. By the end of the war, Renault was the number one private manufacturer in France.


  • 1898 – Louis Renault founded Renault
  • 1903 – Marcel Renault dies in a car accident
  • 1943 – The Renault factory in Billancourt is attacked by the German army
  • 1944 – Louis Renault dies
  • 1961 – The Renault 4 goes on sale to give Renault a practical competitor for the likes of the Citroen 2CV and Volkswagen Beetle.
  • 1965 – Renault launches the world’s first production hatchback – the Renault 16.
  • 1971 – Renault launches the Renault 15 and Renault 17 two-door coupes, giving it a serious competitor for the Ford Capri.
  • 1972 – Renault cars enter the new “supermini” market with its R5 hatchback, one of the first such cars in this sector. On its launch, the R5 only has three similar competitors – the Fiat 127, Autobianchi A112 and Peugeot 104.
  • 1976 – The Renault 5 Alpine is launched, giving the marque its first entrant into the Hot hatch market. Possibly one of the very first hot hatches, going into production in the same year as the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
  • 1977 – Renault enters the small family hatchback market with the 14, which is one of Europe’s first hatchbacks of this size.
  • 1979 – Renault buys a stake in American Motors, with a view to establishing Renault cars on the American market.
  • 1980 – Renault launches the 5 Turbo, which is designed as a rally car but does include roadgoing versions. It ditches the front-drive, front-engined layout for a mid-mounted engine (in place of the rear seats) and rear-wheel drive.
  • 1981 – Renault launches the 9 a four-door saloon, a modern three-box design which is designed to keep the market interest in saloons at a time when hatchbacks are becoming the norm in this sector. It is voted European Car of the Year.
  • 1983 – Renault launches the 11 – a hatchback version of the R9. It gives Renault its first serious rival to the Volkswagen Golf.
  • 1984 – Renault enters the executive car market with the large 25 hatchback, aimed directly at the likes of the Ford Granada, Rover SD1 and Opel Rekord.
  • 1985 – Renault launches the Espace – Europe’s first multi-purpose vehicle. It gains praise from all over Europe thanks to its unique practicality and innovation.
  • 1986 – On April 9 the Government of France ruled against the privatisation of Renault.
  • 1986 – Renault replaces the 18 with the all-new R21 saloon and Savanna seven-seater estate.
  • 1987 – Renault sells its stake in American Motors to Chrysler.
  • 1988 – The 9 and 11 ranges are replaced by a single model, the 19, which is praised for its excellent ride and handling, as well as the frugality and refinement of its diesel engines.
  • 1990 – Renault launches the Clio supermini, designed as an eventual replacement for the Renault 5. The Clio is the first new model of a generation of Renault cars which will see the numeric models replaced by new cars with traditional nameplates. It sets supermini benchmarks for build quality, comfort and space, and is voted European Car of the Year.
  • 1991 – The Renault 19 becomes available as a cabriolet, and a mild facelift sees the standard range’s exterior styling refreshed.
  • 1992 – Louis Schweitzer becomes president of Renault group.
  • 1992 – Renault moves into the city car market with its Twingo, a small hatchback with a “cube” design that maximises interior space, though it is only built with left-hand drive. It re-enters the executive market with the Safrane, an ultramodern large hatchback which replaces the R25
  • 1995 – Renault 5 production finishes after nearly a quarter of a century. These Renault cars had been produced in Slovenia since the launch of the Clio in 1990.
  • 1995 – Renault replaces the Renault 19 with the Megane, a range of hatchbacks, saloons, estates, coupes and cabriolets.
  • 1996 – Renault enters the new “compact MPV” market with its Megane-based Scenic. It is voted European Car of the Year, fighting off competition from the Ford Ka and Volkswagen Passat. Great compact Renault cars.
  • 1996 – The company was privatised to create Renault S.A.
  • 1997 – The all-new Espace goes on sale with a more upmarket image than its predecessor, that served the company for over 10 years.
  • 1998 – The second generation Clio is launched, using an all-new body and being one of the most competitively-priced European superminis, though these Renault cars’ styling is not to all tastes.
  • 1999 – Renault purchased a 36.8 percent equity stake in Nissan , the almost bankrupt Japanese car maker, by injecting US$3.5 billion to obtain effective control of the company under Japanese law. Renault vice-president, Carlos Ghosn was parachuted in to turn round the ailing firm. Nissan also owns 15% of Renault in turn.
  • 2000 – Renault launches the Laguna II – the first European family car to feature “keyless” entry and ignition.
  • 2001 – Renault sold its industrial vehicle subdivision (Renault Véhicules Industriels) to Volvo, which renamed it Renault Trucks in 2002. The Clio undergoes a major facelift and the launch of a 1.5 direct-injection diesel engine to keep it competitive in the supermini sector.
  • 2002 – Benetton Formula One team formally becomes Renault F1, Renault increases its stake in Nissan to 44.4 percent.
  • 2002 – Renault gains another European Car of the Year success with its second generation Megane, a quirky-looked car which is set to form the basis of Nissan’s Almera replacement later in the decade.
  • 2003 – Renault expands in Megane hatchback range with coupe-cabriolet, estate (SportsTourer) and sedan (SportsSaloon) variants.
  • 2004 – The Renault factory in Billancourt is demolished.
  • 2005 – Carlos Ghosn becomes president.
  • 2005 – The Clio III is elected European Car of the Year 2006 and gains plaudits from all over Europe for these Renault cars’ class-leading qualities. The previous generation these Renault cars is set to continue for a while until the Twingo II goes on sale.
  • 2006 – In February, Carlos Ghosn announced the “Renault Contrat 2009” plan focusing on three main goals: sell 800 000 more cars than in 2006, Reach an operating Margin of 6%, Place the new Laguna in terms of quality and service rate. The same year, Renault and Nissan engaged talks with General Motors to study a potential Alliance. This approach was finally abandoned due to the fact that GM asked for money as “entry ticket” from Renault
  • 2007 – The third generation Laguna is introduced, strengthening Renault’s position in the large family car sector.


Renault cars have performed well in the European Car of the Year awards. The Clio is the only car since the prize’s conception in 1964 to win the award twice.

  • 1966: Renault 16 *
  • 1982: Renault 9 *
  • 1991: Renault Clio *
  • 1997: Renault Scénic *
  • 2003: Renault Mégane II *
  • 2006: Renault Clio III

The Renault 12 (1970), Renault 5 (1972), Renault 20 (1976), Renault 25 (1985) and Renault Laguna (2002) have all achieved runners-up in spot in the competition. Renault cars’ most recent models are well known for their safety, all but 4 of the current models have achieved the maximum 5-star rating by the EuroNCAP crash-test assessment programme. Renault has regularly topped the French car sales charts, fighting off fierce competition from Citroën and Peugeot.

Wheels magazine has announced its Car of the Year every year since 1963, with the exception of 1972, 1979 and 1986 when no cars were considered worthy of the honour. It is considered Australia’s most prestigious automotive award. Wheels Magazine itself contends that its Car of the Year award remains the oldest continuous award of its kind in the world.

The inaugural Australian Wheels Car of the Year award was won by the R8 in 1963, and Renault won again in 1970 when the Renault 12 won the prestigious award.