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Car Confidential: Renault turns on the charm



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"The alarm bells started ringing inside Renault a little over 18 months ago. The newly launched Megane three- and five-door hatches had provoked plenty of attention from media pundits, but buyers seemed worryingly reluctant to sign up for Renault’s uncompromisingly avant-garde style. Had Patrick le Quement, the design chief who once told senior management the comp-any needed instinctive design, not extinctive marketing, pushed his design brief a car too far? That le Quement’s similarly bold Avantime coupe and Vel Satis luxury car had both failed to attract significant numbers of buyers was one thing, but Megane was something else. Sales failure was not an option.

Fast forward to June 2004. As le Quement reveals the Fluence coupe, the 16th Renault concept designed under his direction since 1988, he announces that Renault design has entered a third phase. We’ve had innovation (Twingo and Scenic) and we’ve had in-your-face (Avantime, Vel Satis and Megane hatches). Now we’re to get sensuality and charm.

The Fluence is an elegant front-wheel drive two-door coupe with conventional proportions. Built on a bespoke platform, it has the 3.5- litre V6 engine and front suspension from the Vel Satis, and the rear axle assembly of the Laguna. The Fluence is not, says le Quement, a pre-production peek at a new Renault coupe aimed at BMW 3-series and Mercedes CLK.

“We are looking at expanding the number of vehicles in our range,” he says. “And in the upper luxury segment the saloon share has diminished in favour of luxury wagons, SUVs and coupes.”

What Fluence shows, says le Quement, are elements that will be seen on Renault’s mainstream cars within the next two to four years, although he’s quick to insist it does not represent a knee-jerk change of direction."

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