Renault has been closely linked to the history of France since the early 20th century, both through its iconic cars and the fact that it has been a national company for over 40 years.
The company, which celebrated its 123rd anniversary last year, has been an ally of Japan's Nissan since 1999, in which it holds a 43% stake. Reinforced in 2016 by Mitsubishi, the group was already the world leader in passenger cars and light commercial vehicles sold the following year. At the end of 2017, the diamond-shaped company employed more than 181,000 people worldwide and distributed its vehicles in 134 countries. In 2018, the manufacturer (under the Dacia, Lada, Alpine and Samsung Motors brands) sold a record 3.88 million vehicles. In the previous year, sales amounted to 58.8 billion euros and net profit amounted to 5.1 billion euros.
In 1898, a young, self-taught Louis Renault built his first Type A automobile in Boulogne-Billancourt, southwest of Paris. The following year, Renault Frères was founded, whose commercial success spread until the outbreak of World War I thanks to the sporting feats of its models. Mobilized for the war effort, Renault's factories produced ammunition as well as the FT light tank, which contributed to Allied successes until the armistice. While his new competitor André Citroën enjoyed great success with American assembly line methods pioneered by Ford, Louis Renault also modernized his production facilities. To this end, a giant factory was built on Ile Seguin in Boulogne-Billancourt in the early 1930s. At that time, Renault's lineup included both small cars and powerful luxury models.
But World War II was to shuffle the cards. Renault's factories were requisitioned by the occupying forces, and in 1944 Louis Renault was arrested for collaborationism. He died in custody a few weeks later. The government then nationalized the company, which became the Régie nationale des usines Renault. It was entrusted with the production of entry-level cars: the 4CV (1946) and then the Dauphine, which contributed to the motorization of postwar France.
This focus on popularity has remained in the brand's DNA, be it the Renault 4 in 1961, the Renault 5 in 1972 or the Clio and Twingo from the early 1990s, which are regularly among the best-selling cars in France and Europe. Renault has expanded its production base in France (Flin, Cléon, Sandouville in the Paris-Le Havre area, as well as Le Mans and Douet) and is now expanding internationally, notably in Spain, South America, Turkey, Morocco and Algeria. At the beginning of 2016, the first Chinese plant was inaugurated. At the same time, the group is betting on the development of electric vehicles, introducing models such as the Zoé.
However, several attempts to conquer the North American market were unsuccessful and the company struggled to gain a foothold in the upper segment of the lineup, despite innovative cars such as the R16 (1965) and Espace (1984). In 1969, the Régie was producing over a million cars a year and is considered France's "social laboratory" for pioneering paid leave agreements. A stronghold of labor unions, it was also one of the epicenters of the May 1968 protests.
Between 1990 and 1996, the era of the company's transformation into a joint stock company and the gradual withdrawal of the state came to an end. Under the leadership of Chairman and CEO Louis Schweitzer, the Romanian brand Dacia was acquired and became a commercial phenomenon in the low-cost car sector. Then the Korean concern Samsung and the Russian group Avtovaz joined the manufacturer's orbit. Renault, which Carlos Ghosn led from 2005 until his dizzying disgrace following his arrest in Japan in November 2018 for alleged wrongdoing, enjoys significant economies of scale thanks to Nissan, which is also a source of juicy dividends.
Going forward, Renault is likely to continue to grow and evolve, building on its rich history, strong brands and global production and sales network.