Frankfurt auto show: Renault takes another swing at the luxury thing
French launches Initiale Paris concept aimed at taking on the German premium brands
Laurens van den Acker, Senior Vice President, Corporate Design, and Carlos Ghosn (R) Chairman and CEO of Renault pose with Renault’s Initiale concept car
Renault just refuses to lie down and accept that it is not rated when it comes to luxury cars. Its big, grand models have never sold well, at least outside of France itself, and the continuing roll call of disappointing sales for the likes of the Safrane, Vel Satis and Avantime would, you would think, be sufficient to quell any taste for a continued fight with the big three German premium brands.
But as Renault’s appearance at the Frankfurt show demonstrates, La Regie doesn’t seem keen to admit it’s beaten and it’s having another swing at the Germans with the Initiale Paris concept.
Now, the purposes of this concept are many-fold. A quick glance at the shape and styling (the latest under Renault’s chief designer Laurens Van Der Acker) will tell you that it’s, in all but name, the next-generation Espace. Renault effectively invented the MPV back in the eighties (with a little help from Matra) and although the big Espace has been long since outpaced in terms of both sales and practicality by the smaller Scenic, it’s not prepared to let the name go just yet.
Actually, the styling of the car is a touch surprising, if it is indeed a close preview of the new Espace. Conventional wisdom has it that the big MPV is an increasingly unpopular shape and Renault had told us many times in the run up to the show that this new generation would be closer to an SUV than an MPV. So the Initiale Paris’ lines are surprisingly close to the Espace norm, albeit much racier and more exciting looking than those of the aged current model.
The coolest feature of the design is without doubt the map of Paris itself etched and milled into the massive plexiglass roof. It may not be a practical sat-nav substitute but it’s a glorious piece of design frippery and strikes exactly the right Hérmes-esque note that Renault needs to sing loud if its new luxury crossover is to be taken seriously in the premium market.
Aiding and abetting that hoped for success will be the Initiale Paris brand itself, for the concept’s name will be expanded out to a series of posh versions of existing Renaults. The idea is to bring more chrome, more leather, more LED lights and more refined paint finishes to create upscale versions of mainstream Renaults that will be embraced (Renault hopes) but buyers seeking an affordable bit of luxury. It’s effectively Renault’s riposte to Citroen’s DS range although it remains to be seen whether tarting up Clios and Meganes will have the same impact as Citroen’s bespoke DS models.
The Initiale Paris concept also debuts Renault’s new twin-turbo 1.6 diesel engine, which is claimed to have Co2 emissions 40 per cent lower than any equivalent competitor as well as packing 400Nm of torque. It even, apparently, uses a direct spin off from Renault’s Formula One programme in the shape of hollowed-out pistons.
Finally, the car is reckoned to weigh around 250kg less than the current Grand Espace, a figure which suggests this car is closer to production spec than the concept tag would suggest.
Will it work? Can Renault at long last convince premium buyers that French is as good as German? That Dior is as desirable as Hugh Boss? It will be at the very least interesting to find out...