All motor manufacturers today lay claim to being innovators; the plethora of concept cars gracing every motor show around the world is testament to the motor industry’s focus on developing new concepts and ideas. Many of those concept cars never see the light of day in any shape or form, however, and one is often left wondering whether they arose simply as a means of showing how clever the designers were, rather than having any useful purpose in mind.
For Renault, innovative concepts are never developed simply to showcase technical expertise. Such a strategy would be an immense waste of time and effort. Why expend so much effort on something that will inevitably be stillborn? For the Regie, innovation is a way of life, a philosophy that pervades everything the company undertakes.
Renault innovates to provide their customer with the very best motoring has to offer, in terms of design, comfort, technology, safety, and environmental impact. Innovation at Renault has three main thrusts: Renault R&D, covering in-house work and projects run in partnership with public and private organizations such as laboratories and research centres; cooperative projects with suppliers and automotive equipment manufacturers; and the Technology Interchange with Nissan, under the Renault-Nissan Alliance begun in 1999.
Renault’s approach is that innovation should be inextricably tied to functionality, practicality and above all, utility. A beautiful looking car is of no use whatsoever if the very elements that define it are a barrier to its utility.
It is this approach which has led to the production of some of the most innovative mass produced vehicles of recent years: The enormously successful Espace, the MPV trend-setter, now in its fourth incarnation and still the benchmark in its sector; the immensely popular Scenic, which pioneered the compact MPV concept and set a trend which its competitors had no choice but to follow; and Modus, the small car with big ideas in every respect.
Renault believes that everyone should benefit from innovation, and therefore introduces new technology across its whole range rather than restricting it to luxury models. Take Modus, for instance – introduced in 2004, the Regie’s new compact car brought a number of innovations to market: A rear bench seat configurable for two or three persons and allowing variable luggage space accordingly, as well as upmarket safety features like dual-range xenon headlights, additional cornering lights, and variable-assist electric power steering.
In the field of vehicle safety, Renault today sets the benchmark, with eight vehicles in its range having achieved the highest five-star rating in the Euro NCAP tests.
Although it is far more difficult for a small car achieve the highest rating, both the Modus and the Clio III were awarded five stars.
This record is due in no small measure to Renault’s three-pronged approach to vehicle safety: Prevention, through the provision of driver support and information systems; Correction, through the use of electronic- and other driver aids & assistance systems, to ensure optimal responses to emergency situations; and Protection, to minimize the risk of injury if an accident is unavoidable.
Renault is also constantly improving vehicle features to make motoring the most pleasurable experience possible. The main areas of attention in this respect include Acoustics (covering all interior and exterior noise sources such as engine, vibration, tyres, body resonance); Comfort (the provision of effective ventilation systems & heaters, pollen filters and the fitment of air conditioning as standard on many models); Visibility and roominess (larger glass areas and the use of panoramic sunroofs); and Ergonomics (easy to use electronic systems, which reduce driver distraction by taking charge of certain routine operations such as switching on the headlights, and controls that are intuitive to operate and pleasant to the touch).
On the environmental front, Renault strives to minimize CO2 emissions from both petrol and diesel engines. This problem is tackled from many different angles, including optimized fuel combustion, lightweight vehicle design, and reducing friction between moving parts. Improvements in all these areas help reduce fuel consumption, and thereby CO2 emissions.
Modern cars already benefit from developments such as variable valve timing, direct injection and exhaust gas recirculation which reduce emission levels. Many other new technologies for conventional engines are being developed, such as stratified loading and valve trains which dispense with conventional camshafts entirely.
It is a fact that automotive emissions have exhibited a strong downward trend during the past two decades, falling by approximately 50% every five years. Under its sustainable development policy, Renault is committed to continuing these reductions. The Company also undertakes in-depth studies into the causes and effects of atmospheric pollutant discharges.
Renault also takes part in research programs on alternative energies capable of eventually taking over from fossil fuels, either in the near future (biomass fuels) or within a longer time-frame (hydrogen fuel cells). In the latter instance the Company is particularly interested in reforming technology, which involves direct on-board production of the hydrogen needed by the fuel cell.
Vehicle aerodynamics also has a bearing on fuel consumption. Recent developments in digital aerodynamic modelling provide engineers with valuable insights into the impact of design choices on fuel consumption.
Recycling of vehicles which have reached the end of their life is another major issue confronting motor manufacturers. Renault aims for a vehicle recyclability rate of 95 percent, an ambitious objective that cannot be achieved unless the recycling process is integrated right from the initial vehicle design phase.
In the final analysis, however, Renault’s commitment to innovation would count for nothing if it were not accompanied by commercial success. The Company is now firmly established as a major – and extremely successful – player in the global automotive industry. Together with partner Nissan, Renault is now the fourth largest motor manufacturing entity in the world – clear proof that, in Renault’s case, the art of innovation represents sound business sense.