Renault : Putting the Sole Back Into Design

Stop looking at your feet, Boy!

Kadjar 1After we discussed Renault’s desperate ‘Dare To Live’ bit of internet marketing a few weeks back, I’d entirely forgotten it related to an new crossover, the Kadjar. I’ve now just reminded myself of it and seen a picture. From front and rear it’s a forgettable enough lump, it only distinctive feature being the side view featuring a kick up from the sills.

I was a reactionary 30 something when I first started making snide remarks about people who wore the kind of upstart gym shoe that they call a ‘trainer’ in the UK. That was so long ago and I now regard those sort of comments as far past their Amuse By Date as the idea that wearing trainers is sort of edgy and anti-establishment. But, apparently, some people do still find such casual footwear cool. One is the notorious collector and wearer of sporting apparel, Laurens van den Acker, head of design at Renault.

Photo by Jane Mingay/REX
Photo by Jane Mingay/REX

He replaced Patrick Le Quément, a designer whose work I admired. However, I can’t take against him for that – the toxic politics at Renault prior to Le Quément’s departure are hardly Mr van den Acker’s fault. I guess his original brief was ‘do stuff that isn’t as divisive for our customers as Le Quément’s stuff’ although he recollects Carlos Ghosn’s words as ‘design beautiful cars’ which, coming from someone in the car business, has a banal naivete that is staggering. He also says that he was to create a clear visual identity that he claims was previously lacking .

Has he done this? He has produced the large central diamond front motif which, to my eyes, is no more or less distinctive than the split radiator adopted on most models around the Vel Satis period. What he has also added, though, is the now trademark kink upwards from the sills, seen on all recent new models save the Twingo. To me this is indeed distinctive, just as a wart on the end of your nose is. It looks like something that seemed good as a sketch, where you saw plain air beneath the kink but, in reality, where a flat floorpan takes the place of air, it looks clumsy. Where does it come from?

Kadjar 2

Tellingly, Van den Acker’s top ten favourite designs by others are mainly concepts. This seems entirely wrong and unrevealing of his aspirations for real cars. Concepts are easy. They don’t have to house real people or go round corners. They can have a limited use in crystallising a design theme but they carry an equal risk in hooking a team to a point where, however the design evolves and gets compromised, they can’t see past their glorious concept. Also, designers need to be careful when they put subconscious messages in their designs. Typical is the mimicking of a face at the front and suggesting some organic form, most cornily a female human figure, in the curves.

Trainer 7Van den Acker however seems to have gone into his own closet when he looked for inspiration. The distorted sills of new Renaults suggest nothing so much as the sides of the soles of sports footwear. You can suggest this is good – for a crossover this gives out healthy, active vibes. I don’t agree. The shapes probably please him as much as they irritate me. Referencing other objects in this way is just silly, glib, throwaway. And that’s more or less what I feel about the cars.

We covered the Renault 16 on these pages recently.  That was a truly fine car but, as Richard pointed out, not built to last.  Current Renaults, with the exception of the Twingo, have nothing to distinguish them at all, save the questionable styling. But they are galvanised.

2 thoughts on “Renault : Putting the Sole Back Into Design”

  1. Fair enough but that kink, however susbstantial it looks, is merely cosmetic and could easily disappear with the first facelift in 2 or 3 years time. Just like the added frills on current Peugeots – 208 and 2008 in particular.

    1. Laurent. True that, unlike Mercedes who had their ill-judged ‘Ponton’ curve on the E Class carry through from wing to door, meaning that at facelift time they ended up with two lines running from front and back not joining, but to no particular effect, Renault have wisely kept the feature within the door panels an the 4 door models. But on the 2 doors, they’d need to re-do the rear wing, so losing the kink in a facelift would be costly. But, seeing he has used the trick on 3 production models now, Mr van den A is obviously rather pleased with it anyway.

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