Salut Grand-Austral, adieu Espace.
Established and trusted brand names are too valuable to be taken lightly or bandied about carelessly. Were this not so, why would businesses spend €millions dreaming up suitable examples, before market-testing them across global audiences, then expending years nurturing, marketing and developing them? Has Groupe Renault somehow missed a memo?
For decades now, Espace meant only one thing to those of an automotive bent. A large French monospace MPV — for many European motorists (and their passengers), the original (and best) of the species. Renault, as much by good fortune as outright bravery, got to market first with a product which would prove so utterly definitive that no other carmaker could credibly emulate it.
Under a different collection of circumstances and perhaps stronger leadership from the boardroom, Espace might potentially have done for Renault what the Range Rover did for its maker; as it was, when one formed a mental picture of a large (by European standards) multispace vehicle, the Espace (especially in its sector-defining TGV-inspired shape) was what immediately sprung to mind.
But Espace is no more. Yes, the nameplate does appear to have jumped species; as of last week adorning a newly announced 7-seater crossover SUV, but this vehicle, essentially a longer-tailed version of the 5-seat Austral C-segment crossover introduced in March bears no relationship (apart from having more than 5-seats) to its epoch-defining forebears.
Before we fling day-old baguettes in Bologne-Billancourt’s direction however, spare a thought for the storied French carmaker. Life has been somewhat difficult for Renault these past number of years, with a battalion of troubles which have coalesced to become a considerable drag upon the business. Extricating themselves from this series of calamities is proving neither easy nor cheap, meaning that despite current CEO, Luca de Meo’s best efforts, Groupe Renault remains in the sickbay.
Further to this reversal of fortune has been the striking contrast in fortunes with its domestic (Stellantis-owned) rivals, deftly overseen by another former Renault executive, Carlos Tavares. A vivid example of this being the fact that while Renault, having made an early (and at the time heavily criticised) jump to electrification, they subsequently stalled upon their early lead and have since fallen behind rivals; not least Stellantis, who following a late start, are quickly electrifying a large percentage of their core offerings and are reaping the sales rewards accordingly.
Luca de Meo’s strategy for the French national marque has been dubbed, ‘Renaulution’, and like many legacy carmakers in this alternating electrified current, involves looking towards the future with at least one eye to the past. Hence the forthcoming advent of re-animated R4 and R5 models, freighted with comfortable familiarity and a nostalgia for a less fractured time. To a rather tenuous extent, the anno-2023 Espace is another strand of this strategy, leveraging a well-loved name to help sell what is in effect, a wholly different product.
Everybody knows the monospace concept is in what appears to be terminal retreat. Some of us even understand why. But what comparatively few can get their heads around is the essential logic which drives it. Multispaces like Renault’s Scenic and Espace are perhaps the most efficient and logical method of moving people and chattels about, but have met a seemingly implacable foe in the SUV format. Essentially, the demise of the Monospace is a simple matter of marketing failure and economics. Had the will been there (I would contend), it is unlikely that this would have happened — certainly not to this extent.
There is, you will perhaps agree, a palpable whiff of desperation (expediency certainly) about Renault’s move to re-clothe the Espace in such an inauspicious manner. I certainly find it difficult to avoid the suspicion that Mr. de Meo is choosing to operate from a well-thumbed copy of the Marchionne guidebook for embattled multi-brand CEOs, and in doing so appears to stand about as much chance of success. Interestingly, Renault have no plans to roll ‘Grand-Austral’ out to RHD markets, which rather naturally leads to its own set of assumptions.
Not content with heralding a ‘New Wave’, the C-segment Austral CUV is described in its maker’s press materials as embodying the “Spirit of the Renaulution”. I’m afraid I can offer no insight as to what Renaulution stands for (apart from being nonsense), but can only assume that if the term apples to the 5-seater, we must by means of simple deduction assume it applies just as judiciously to the 7-seat model.
What can be stated with more certainty however is that by flinging quantities of brand equity onto the fire in order to the keep the wheels turning, Groupe Renault is taking a risky and irreversible step.
This too has a name.
 Dubbed by Renault as the “Nouvelle Vague”. This means that the Espace has shifted from being a D-segment MPV to a C-segment CUV, based on a 3rd generation CMF-CD platform, developed within the Nissan-Renault Alliance. Quite the comedown.
 The list includes the ongoing (if improving) rupture with alliance partner, Nissan, coupled to the soap-opera of Carlos Ghosn’s arrest and subsequent fugitive escape. Furthermore, Renault has been hugely exposed by its extensive business links with the Russian federation, not only in terms of its own manufacturing facilities in Russia, but also owing to its (now severed) part-ownership of Lada. Couple this with the costs facing all legacy carmakers to shift to EVs and the ongoing semiconductor shortage and sleepless nights must be incessant for de Meo.
 Aside from his well known stints in the hot seat at Seat and FIAT’s Alfa Romeo/Lancia division, de Meo also cut his executive teeth at Renault.
 In concert with Alliance partner, Nissan.
 In 2022, Renault’s core (and once sector-leading) Clio B-segment model was conclusively outsold, not only by the Peugeot 208 and Citroen C3, but by the Alliance’s Dacia Sandero. (Taken from data suppled by Carsalesbase.com)
 Nope, not a clue either.
 I should rephrase that. ‘Everybody knows the [mass-market] monospace concept is in what appears to be terminal retreat’.
25 thoughts on “Espace – The Final Frontier”
I think Ford’s repurposing of beloved nameplates is even more egregious than the example here. First Puma, then Mustang and apparently this is to be the new Ford Capri:
Another crossover coupé…yippie! 😬
I can definitely see resemblances between the old and the new Capri.
(Cool Manzanilla white wine has its side effects)
Good morning Eóin. This is indeed sad news, but probably inevitable. In fairness to Renault, they did try to update the traditional MPV concept with the 2015 fifth-generation Espace and 2016 fourth-generation Scenic:
Both were more rakishly styled than before and sat on (overly, in the case of the Scenic) large alloy wheels in an unsuccessful attempt to give them a less ‘car as domestic appliance’ image than their predecessors. The trouble is that most buyers are fundamentally irrational and place image above functionality, even if their crossover never goes further off road than the shopping centre car park.
At least Groupe Renault hasn’t entirely given up on the MPV format:
The Dacia Jogger is, I think, a pretty successful attempt at combining MPV utility and crossover styling cues.
I’m not an MPV customer, but I thought that final Scenic had quite a wow-factor – very handsome, and less ‘me-too’ than all the CUVs.
2015 Espace had a lot of faults, but you can feel that at least they tried to do something new with old formula. I really liked the styling of that car. New one is probably one of the most uninspired French cars I’ve seen lately. When you compare it to its predecessor, you might think that it’s 2015 model that’s brand new, not this elongated Quashqai. Renault styling was pretty striking a few years back, right now it kinda stalled, isn’t it? Peugeot and DS definitely took the crown of the most interesting French cars right now, even if they (308 and 408) became a bit overstyled since 508.
So uninspiring looking, maybe they should rename it the Safrane?
Renaulin, it’s a bit of a Renaulsup. Admittedly, it sounds a bit better if you pronounce it as French, but Renaulution has the same desperate tang as Ford’s ‘Unlearn’ of a few years back. And Ford is another manufacturer that often lets itself down by oscillating from confidence into periods of self-doubt. Though, as Eoin notes, their current period has some justification.
As for this ‘Espace’, is there anything of interest in this nondescript and gloomy SUV at all? If you told me it was introduced 5 years ago I’d just assume I hadn’t noticed it. Yes, the Espace was certainly for a while the Range Rover of MPVs, though it’s not Renault’s fault that so many of today’s buyers put their self-image ahead of the common sense realisation that an MPV is really the best use of the stupidly large proportion of our income that we blow away on buying motor vehicles.
The Académie Française was founded in 1634 to protect and promote the French language (I recall they did not appreciate “minivan”, ergo “monospace”). This vehicle is the automotive embodiment of their linguistic nightmare.
Thanks Eóin, depressing as your message may be. I thought the previous Espace (which looked too much like the Grand Scénic IMO) would have proved beyond doubt that “Espace” as a name plate isn’t enough to carry a model, certainly after they left the model before that on the market for far too long.
I simply cannot fathom anyone at Renault believing this to be a good idea. Probably “Grand Austral” would have had more recognition than Espace right now.
While I’m being cranky: I’m a little nonplussed by Renault’s inconsistent use of the “e” at the end of their model names. I notice in the leading image that the Espace has the special “e-for-electric e” at the end, as does the Megane e-tech. In both instances that “e” is part of the model name. With the Austral, on the other hand, you have the ICE versions that are called Austral and the hybrid versions that are apparently called “Australe”, although I don’t think it’s marketed as such. Grumble grumble moan moan, etc.
With this state of flux in the automotive market, I suppose we’ll be seeing more of these desperate measures from mainstream manufacturers. Somehow the premium bunch, which you would expect to be better inured against the turbulence, are already slap bang in their own confidence crisis. So, interesting times ahead.
Illustration of the Renault names from the above comment:
On a more positive note: I recently came across an ID Buzz and I liked it. It’s Transporter-sized, so the usual EV bloat is less obvious, and the design is easily VW’s most confident effort in recent years.
So do they need a Meganee? Meganée? Whatever.
And if they did that consistently through the rest of their range, my goodness wouldn’t we see some funny names!
Either that, or four generations of ICE-powered Meganes get retroactively renamed to “Megan” (with or without Stallion or Fox). Maybe they’ll rename the whole company to Renaulte. Usually in French, an extra “e” at the end signifies a female form of a word. Is electricity female?
On a positive note, the quality of Renaults really does seem to be pretty good and they have attractive (if complex) interiors.
From the short static review I found, the tech seems very responsive, too.
Less positively, an option is an enormous sunroof with no shade, apparently. I wonder if that’ll be included in Euro NCAP tests.
Overall, I feel that manufacturers produce these large vehicles and load them with features so that they can charge more and claim some premium ground. It is actually possible now to produce small, affordable EVs with reasonable range.
Incidentally, I understand that many manufacturers face even more problems in the near future. The new Chinese emissions standards take effect in July and many manufacturers have large stocks of combustion-engined vehicles to get rid of.
I don’t want to believe that this car has anything to do with Gilles Vidal, the man behind the Peugeot 208, 3008 and 508. This car looks like a 5 year old Samsung Renault….
I feel a bit sorry for the designers – there’s only so many times you can design an SUV.
I thought van den Acker was still in charge of Renault design ? He was pretty good.
Mervyn: Laurens van den Acker is still at Groupe Renault. His current job title is Chief Design Officer, Renault Group, overseeing design strategy for the entire brand portfolio. It is a boardroom role, so he is even further from the nitty gritty of design work than he was when he was appointed Design Director in 2009.
It’s worth bearing in mind that when he took the role in 2009, he inherited two almost complete designs – the last generation Clio and Zoe EV models which were directly overseen by Patrick le Quément prior to his departure. These were probably the most accomplished of the so-called van den Acker cars but his input in these instances was minimal. I’m not all that convinced by the designs he did in fact oversee, but that’s a subjective opinion and therefore something of an ecumenical matter.
Given the lead times for production models, it’s unlikely that any designs (apart from concepts) directly influenced by Gilles Vidal have seen the light of day. Certainly neither the Austral/Espace are ‘his’.
Oh the irony. From the lignesauto article,
“Alongside the Austral, we can see with the Mégane E-TECH that the proportions of electric vehicles give rise to new volumes, like the almost ovoid Mercedes EQS! Is this a major trend?
G.V.: “The era of electric vehicles offers us more options, such as the “one box” style that you mentioned, with small noses, a forward windscreen and always this aerodynamic research. There is a whole area of design that is returning to this design that I would call ‘aquatic’, very aerodynamic, even hydrodynamic. We are seeing this phenomenon with the Tesla and the latest Chinese electric cars.” ”
So… a return to an Espace monovolume?
Here is Gilles Vidal…
I was immediately reminded of the 2013 Nissan IDx, however Vidal’s 2018 e-Legend concept seems to have inspired the Peugeot Inception concept from this year, which I absolutely love…
… and isn’t overtly “retro”.
So he seems to have left an impression at Peugeot which has outlasted his tenure there.
I wasn´t aware the Espace was still in production so finding out production ceased was a surprise. I haven´t seen very many anywhere I have been visiting. They were common enough around launch time and then faded. Just yesterday I noticed one and realised I had not seen one since maybe 2020. Since the last one didn´t really seem all that Espacy to me, its demise is not something I will be too disturbed about. We could add it to the roll call of moribund models and brands: Jaguar pretty much can´t sell anything; three door hatches are almost gone; there are few coupés remaining, the large saloon is in sharp decline and so are MPVs. The dominant viable format is the five door hatch whether raised or not.
Yes – city cars/superminis/compact hatchbacks make up one half the (European) market, with SUVs making up the other half. I wonder what would break the mould.
I don’t mind hatches if they have a decent rear overhang, with plenty of boot space aft of the wheel-arches.
My only Espace experience;
As someone who had never heard of the Espace, I was back visiting Europe in 1996, and a good friend in Germany borrowed a friend’s Espace so we would have a vehicle to go about central Europe on one of my vintage car automobilia and spare parts buying forays.
One sunny morning we approached a big sign advertising the Nurburgring Nordschleife, and the chance to drive the old course in your own private vehicle, for only 5 Euros [I think that was the price]. But I was driving a Renault Espace, dammit! Oh well, I’ve always wanted to take a run at such a wonderful course, so what the hell, it was only 5 Euros.
Well I must have scrubbed 10,000 km off the tires on that single lap, and my friend was hanging on as best as he could, faking a smile, but his facial expressions told me he wasn’t smiling inside!