The brainchild of an enthusiastic engineer named Louis Renault, the company was created in association with his two brothers who ran the financial side while he took care of the “mechanics”. From the very beginning, Louis managed to show innovation when he invented and later patented a direct drive system on his De Dion-Bouton tricycle which he already turned into a four-wheel vehicle.
Louis also understood that it would be only through racing that he would make the Renault name known to the world so he entered his vehicles in city-to-city races where his brothers acted as drivers. A number of victories earned them the notoriety they were searching for. People watching the races made orders despite the fact the cars were expensive for the time.
The company quickly developed and set up shop by the Seine. The model line-up now had several models, including the first saloon in 1902. That was also the year that Louis designed his first engine, a four-cylinder, which gave out 24 HP.
1979 - 14 In 1903, Marcel, one of the Renault brothers died in the Paris to Madrid race in a crash, a hard blow both for the company and for Louis who would now assign professional drivers to race for Renault. Instead, he focused on bringing Renault carts to more European markets and even over to the Americas.
As the gap between the United States and Europe widened because of the war and the economic crash, Renault sought to improve production and to lower costs. After the economic crisis, he wanted to become more autonomous and started buying all sorts of businesses that provided him with the materials and parts needed to make cars. He also modernized the factory, emulating Ford and his plant, introducing assembly plants in 1922.
During the economic crash of the 30s, all car manufacturers had to suffer and Renault was no exception. The company was forced to cut costs, reduce staff and become more efficient in production. That's why it started expanding into other areas, basically building anything with a motor attached to it. Busses, lorries, electric railcars, tractors and even airplane engines, all were now coming out of the Renault plant.
With worker strikes plaguing all of the country, Renault was nationalized by the government in 1945 in order to keep it from going bankrupt like Citroen had done some years before. The first project made by the new company was the small 4CV, but it was postponed until after WWII. For the European market, small cars were the future because they were cheap to buy and maintain.
The 4CV, introduced in 1946, proved to be a major success, much larger than initially expected. With the money the company made from sales, it bought and developed heavy machinery to help with production. Renault then turned again to the heavy goods sector and by merging two existent companies, Latil and Somua, they created a new company, completely dedicated to making trucks – Saviem.
1989 - 21 As the 4CV aged, a new model was ready to surface, the Dauphine, which appeared in 1956. It too enjoyed great success, even in the US. In fact, it was so successful over the ocean that Renault had to setup a special transport company, CAT, to accommodate the high demand. Next, the Renault 4 and the Renault 8 took over where the Dauphine left off in 1961.
Renault started the 70s with another success, the sportier and more agile Renault 5, which owed its favorable welcome to its fuel efficiency during the oil crisis. But this didn't mean that the company was safe during these turbulent times. In a bid to retake the American market, Renault started assembling Rambler complete knock down kits and marketing them as Renault Ramblers.
Also during the 70s, Renault began expanding its influence and opened up plants in Eastern Europe, Africa and even Australia. The partnership with the American AMC company came in 1979. At the beginning of the 80s, Renault found itself in financial trouble again and the chairman of the company at the time decided to pul the company out of racing altogether, as well as selling all non-essential assets and cutting costs left and right.
The good news was that by 1987 the company began turning the balance in favor of profit, so that at the beginning of the 90s, a whole new line-up was released on the market and all models proved successful: the new Clio, the new Espace, Twingo and the Laguna. The 1995 Renault Megane was the first car ever to achieve a four-star rating at the Euro NCAP safety tests.
2006 - Megane Also during the 90s, Renault returned to Formula 1 racing and with success nonetheless, having won the Championship in 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997. In 1996 it was decided that a state-owned status of the company would not benefit in the long run so it was privatized again. Renault made further investments in Brazil, Argentina and Turkey.
After 2000, it launched a series of less successful vehicles like the Avantime and the Vel Satis, but also continued successfully with older series like the Clio, Laguna and Megane. Now the government owns 15,7% of the company, which has since bought Romanian car manufactures Dacia and the South Korean Samsung not to mention 20% of Volvo (latest rumors say that Renault is interesting in a total buy out).