Renault is a French automaker that was founded in 1899. It is one of the top three automakers in Europe, by volume, and among the top ten automakers in the world. Although Renault’s core business is done in Europe, the company owns subsidiaries in Korea, Africa, South America, and North America. It is a publicly traded company, but 15 percent of its stock shares are owned by the French government. In addition to automobile manufacturing, Renault also produces commercial vehicles and participates in motorsports.
History of Renault
Renault was founded in 1899 by Louis Renault and his two brothers. Prior to founding the company, Louis had built a number of prototype automobiles, while his brothers had worked for their father’s textile business. The first Renault was actually sold before the company itself was founded, as Louis ended up selling the prototype for his Renault Voiturette 1CV to a family friend in 1898.
Much of Renault’s early success came from the production and sale of taxis. In 1905, the fledgling company managed to sell enough of its Renault AG1 automobiles for the Societe des Automobiles de Place to establish its fleet. Later, this same taxi fleet would be re-appropriated to transport troops during World War I.
Renault also got an early start in the arena of motorsports. Louis and his brother Marcel both participated in early city-to-city races in Renault automobiles, but Louis’s racing activities ceased after his brother died in an accident in 1903. After that, the company’s participation in automobile races was limited to hired drivers.
During the interwar period, Renault expanded its operations into heavy equipment like industrial and agricultural machinery. Some of this stemmed from military production that had occurred during World War I, such as Renault’s first tractor, which was based on a tank design.
When the French government capitulated to Germany, following the Battle of France in 1940, Nazi forces took control of Renault’s factories, which were used to produce troop transports. Renault’s factories were subsequently the target of multiple Allied bombing runs.
After the conclusion of World War II, Louis Renault was accused of collaborating with Nazi Germany. Although he believed himself innocent of the charges, he turned himself in. He would later die while awaiting trial, after which the French government would expropriate his company and ultimately nationalize it. To this day, the French government continues to hold a 15 percent stake in the company.
Throughout the years, Renault has formed a number of alliances and partnerships in an effort to expand into overseas markets. Early partnerships with American automakers included arrangements with both Nash and AMC to produce their vehicles in Europe, and Renault would eventually purchase a minority stake in AMC in the late 1970s.
Although Renaults had been exported to the United States since the very early days of the company, Renault’s partnership with AMC allowed it to sell its R5 (renamed in America as the “Le Car”) through AMC dealerships. Within a few years, Renault had purchased a controlling interest in AMC and put its own people in the American automaker’s top executive positions.
When Renault sold its interest in AMC to Chrysler in the late 1980s, it continued to sell vehicles through the newly-formed, Chrysler-owned Jeep-Eagle dealerships. This practice continued until 1989, after which Renaults were no longer available in North America.
In 1996, the company was finally privatized once more. Although the French government maintained a minority stake in the company, privatization allowed it to expand into additional foreign markets, including South America and Easter Europe. Then, in 1999, Renault entered into a partnership with Nissan that would ultimately lead to the company owning a majority stake in the Japanese automaker. Meanwhile, Nissan took a smaller 15 percent stake in Renault.
Today, Renault has operations in both western and eastern Europe, Africa, South America, the middle east, India, and elsewhere.
Vital Renault Statistics
Current headquarters: Boulogne-Billancourt, France
Yearly production: 2,637,528 vehicles (2012)
Owner: Publicly traded (French government 15 percent, Nissan 15 percent)
Subsidiaries: Automobile Dacia, Renault Samsung Motors (80 percent), Nissan (40 percent)
Joint Ventures: Renault-Nissan b.v., Oyak-Renault, Renault Pars