The small city car of the 1970s and 1980s served as a pretext for Renault to revisit its image, and bring out a car with a very successful design. An R5 that is both modern and vintage.
By announcing the return of the R5 and the Lada Niva, Renault is part of a line of “neo-retro” attempts, between the success of the Fiat 500 and the flop of the e-Mehari.
Inexpensive, reliable, made sympathetic by comic strip advertisements, the Renault 5 dominated the French market at the end of the 1970s. Nicknamed “Supercar” and produced nearly 6 million copies from 1972 to 1984, it is replaced by the Supercinq until 1996.
It can now be found on the collector’s market between 450 and 5,000 euros, except for the Turbo models, whose price has exploded with their success in rallying. The new R5, “an affordable 100% electric car“, is not, however, the first electric R5: EDF had tested it on battery power in the early 1970s. Neither is it Renault’s first neo-retro attempt, which now bases all its sporting strategy on Alpine brand, queen of rallies in the early 1970s.
Neo-retro, everywhere …
In addition to countless concept cars, many manufacturers have revived their icons in series.
Launched in 1998, Volkswagen’s New Beetle has had mixed success. The German manufacturer will soon release a new version of its Combi, darling of the hippies.
BMW has modernized the Mini with unprecedented success, and Fiat has boosted sales with its new 500. The two manufacturers have taken advantage of the success of these city cars to launch entire ranges, ranging from sports bomblets to SUVs.
“The manufacturers rely on emblematic models, which have had great commercial success”, explains Flavien Neuvy, from the Cetelem automobile observatory. “It immediately speaks to the ears of millions of motorists, it’s free advertising.”
“It’s also a way for brands to remind customers, who are increasingly unfaithful, that they have a common history. Everyone knows someone who has had an R5. And the younger generations are very open to it. vintage side “, continues the expert. In an age when motorists are transitioning to electric, familiar shapes can also “reassure about the robustness of the model “.
The phenomenon is not limited to Europe. Ford has revived (twice) its GT 40 and will relaunch its small 4X4 Bronco in 2021. In Japan, a whole series of cars were inspired by models from the 1950s, like the Nissan Figaro convertible. In China, the Hongqi (“red flag”) L5 that carries President Xi Jinping is an ultramodern version of Mao’s limousine.
An uncertain success
The bet of neo-retro is tempting, but manufacturers hesitate to rub shoulders with it. Citroën got into it with the e-Mehari, an electric version of its ultralight leisure car released in 1968. Relaunched in 2015, a bit expensive and lacking in versatility, it only sold a thousand dollars. copies and production was stopped after four years.
“Neo-retro is very skilful from a marketing point of view, but it is not the guarantee of success either”, emphasizes Flavien Neuvy at the Cetelem Observatory. “The first criterion for buying a new car is price, before reliability and design. The car must be successful but also remain accessible to the core target, the middle classes who will not put 35,000 euros in a car “.
Citroën had more success with its compact C3, granddaughter of the 2CV, and its DS brand.
There is no lack of nods to the past, less risky, in recent models: the luxurious Citroën C6 takes the line of the 1974 CX, the badge of the Peugeot 508 returns to the front as on the 504, just like the Renault Laguna 3 is inspired by the R16.
When a builder hesitates for too long, he can be beaten by his fans. In Italy, Totem Automobili has developed an electric and very exclusive version of the Alfa Romeo Giulia from the 1960s. And the chemical giant Ineos will launch in France the construction of its large 4X4 Grenadier, a rustic clone of the Land Rover Defender, whose original became a luxury SUV.