“The French love the car”, said President Pompidou, who was not the last on the subject. Renault holds a special place in this affection which links the population to the automobile, ” a sector made up of brand-name companies “, As Louis Schweitzer, the former Chairman of the Group, points out.
Taxis and tanks
Renault’s notoriety, attesting to the special bond forged between the French and the manufacturer, was forged in the First World War. Sixteen years after the birth of the company at the bottom of a garden in Boulogne-Billancourt, the Marne taxis requisitioned by the French army are Renault. Three years later, the Renault-FT tank imposed the standard of the modern combat tank.
In a landscape of automobile construction then very fragmented, associated with victory, the name of Renault shines more, which is not to displease its eponymous boss, who is also very authoritarian, when he has to face the tough competition of the youngest Citroën in the 1930s. Peugeot, for several decades, was a “provincial” manufacturer.
In the service of the freedom of the French …
After the nationalization of 1945, the Régie will embody the industrial renaissance of the country, conquering and exporting. Born in 1946, the 4 CV is a huge success, accompanying the outings of a middle class in love with this instrument of freedom.
In 1955 then in 1962, the third and fourth weeks of paid leave were instituted within the company, ahead of the social laws in force and managed by the socialist Pierre Dreyfus from 1955 to 1975. ” Renault embodied both industrial expansion and social progress », Summarizes Louis Schweitzer. The 4L, known as “the car in jeans” for its simplicity and practicality, will be at the top of sales during the 1960s.
… and their challenge
The fortress of Île Séguin, where there is a still important factory of the manufacturer, symbolizes the workers’ protest born in the movement of the student revolt of 1968. The secretary general of the CGT Georges Séguy goes there on May 27 to announce the compromise signed with the Pompidou government… and it gets booed.
Two years later, Jean-Paul Sartre harangues the workers to support the leader of the proletarian left Alain Geismar, awaiting trial. And on February 25, 1972, Maoist activist Pierre Overney was killed by a Renault security guard in front of the Billancourt factory.
As disciplined as the village of Asterix, the company approaches with more difficulty the hour of globalization in the 1980s, during which it will almost die out, in a context of crisis and openness. borders. Its CEO, Georges Besse, was assassinated on November 17, 1986 by the far left terrorists of the Direct Action group.
However, the French manage to get enthusiastic about “Cars to live”, according to the slogan of the time, and its audacity. ” It was about conceptual innovation, explains Louis Schweitzer. Not that of expensive technologies intended for expensive cars, but of those allowing to think outside the box “. In this game, by inventing the minivan via Espace in 1984 and then the Scénic in 1996, Renault took a lead that was never caught up. The Twingo, from 1993, or the Dacia models, from 2004, also appeal to the public eager for cheap cars.
Time for globalization
At the same time, the Régie calmed down to comply with the status of a private company. Feared by Prime Minister Édouard Balladur for its supposed social effects, the 1996 privatization made no waves. ” The opening of the capital had been a kind of referendum, remembers Louis Schweitzer, with excellent subscription conditions for employees ».
Seven months later, the closure of the Belgian factory in Vilvorde deeply moves and causes the populations of Belgium and France to react … until everyone agrees that this was the only reasonable outcome in view of Renault’s situation.
Scared by the failure of the merger with Volvo in 1993 and convinced that “ companies have a nationality “, Louis Schweitzer describes the Alliance formed in 1999 with Nissan as” binational group “. An expression that would undoubtedly not deny his indirect successor, Jean-Dominique Senard, explaining that he had accepted the post seeing it as an opportunity to serve… ” a little bit of France ».