Behind the design of every major mass market car lies a myriad of different factors that impacted upon how it came to be. The importance attached to some of these factors depends on the organization, the individuals involved and the complex interaction between them during the development process. To uncover them all would be impossible, but with the design development of Renault’s second Megane, some of the specific factors affecting its design can be identified, and some of the reasons these had such a bearing on the design can be attributed to individuals and to the organization that is Renault.
The Megane is Renault’s new lower medium car that competes with the class defining Volkswagen Golf. Like the Golf, the Megane can trace its lineage back through several previous generations of lower medium Renaults to the mid 1970s when both companies launched their first transverse mounted engine, front wheel drive hatchbacks.
But unlike Volkswagen, Renault’s lower medium car has changed in its design significantly with each new car.
The development of the Megane began in late 1998 directly after Renault showed the impressive Vel Satis concept car at the Paris Motor Show. Although its predecessor, the Megane of 1995, sold well and was particularly innovative in being available in six different body types (when most of its competitors were only available in three), it was also perceived to have a rather unadventurous design that had attracted a disproportionately old user profile.
Addressing this ‘old image’ became one of the core factors to affect the new Megane’s design as the project’s design manager said: ‘we needed to be more innovative, even in a market where you don’t put your head out of the window’! The car also had to improve on its predecessor’s functional capabilities, not least its interior space and class leading crash performance.
For the first six months Design and Engineering departments worked together to reach a consensus on the vehicle’s core dimensions and proportions. This development centered on the people package, with a buck used to set out the interior volumes, which then impacted on the exterior proportions.
About five designers working on the interior and five on the exterior contributed to this initial stage, from which core package drawings could be used as a basis for further development by all departments. As the interior people package developed in the buck, the exterior designers worked up a quarter scale model to see if the package allowed for a set of acceptable exterior proportions. The design theme for this model was based closely on the Vel Satis concept car, with an upright rear window that wrapped into the body side in plan and a ‘bustle’ back to the boot.
The fundamental difference to the previous Megane at this stage, was that it was a taller car. This was dictated by the need to deliver improved crash performance with lengthier crumple zones that prevented the interior cabin space lengthening without the car becoming too long for the class, and so necessitated more upright seating to deliver greater interior space.
The next stage of design development was opened up to all of the Design department, with about 15-20 designers of the 60 strong department contributing early design sketch proposals. Most designers worked with pen and paper, although the lead into Alias digital design development and quarter scale clay modeling for the eight exterior designs chosen to go to the next stage, occurred later or earlier according to the individual designer’s preferences.
Interior design development ran in parallel to exterior development, although Renault believes in developing sketches straight into full size models, so no quarter scale interior models were developed. In total there were two full size interior models produced and the original seating buck further developed to later incorporate one of these models.
The eight exterior Alias models were narrowed down to five, which in turn were reduced to just three designs to be developed in full size clays by late 1999, one of which included the original Vel Satis based model that had been developed earlier to illustrate the interior package implications on the exterior of the car.
In late 2000 the decision was made to develop the original Vel Satis concept car themed exterior proposal for production.
This design worked well with the new taller proportions of the car that afforded good interior space, was very innovative (would appeal to a younger minded customer) and had successfully translated the Vel Satis’s new Renault design identity into a production design. To an extent, this model had also benefited relative to the others, from a slightly longer development period. At the same time a decision was made on the interior design direction and both interior and exterior designs were developed for approximately a year into a ‘running freeze’ that ended finally on April 4th 2002 with the ‘Final exterior, 100% feasibility CAD definition’.
The final design for the Megane launched at Paris last year is one of the most refreshing mass market car designs in recent times.
It does not create a new class of car as the Scenic did in 1995 or redefine a class as the Golf did in 1974; its capabilities and proportions are similar to those of other new competitors such as the Peugeot 307, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Fiat Stilo. But it does provide a very distinctive Renault flavor in its innovative, cohesive and elegant exterior surfacing and detail interior functional design.
Whether these characteristics are truly intrinsic to Renault’s Frenchness is questionable, but with other French car manufacturers producing far less distinctive aesthetic and functional designs, this strong Renault flavor is becoming 'Frenchness' by default.
Although Renault has not disclosed much about the exterior design proposals not chosen, it is interesting that a significant factor affecting the final design was that the design process started immediately after the Vel Satis had made such an impact in Paris. Another factor that impacted on the design was that Renault is probably the only company that would chose a design for their best selling car so radically different from its predecessor.
The importance that Luc Landuyt and Patrick le Quement attached to creating such a strong and new design identity, albeit one that related closely to other products in the range, and to the advancement of larger car qualities of habitability must also have been important factors in the Megane’s design development. As individuals they, many unnamed people involved in the process, and implicitly the Renault corporate culture, are also responsible for car having created such a distinctly Renault flavor in the new Megane.
While the Golf is about to be reborn in its fifth iteration as a new and yet probably rather familiar design, so this fifth generation of lower medium Renault shows just how successful putting your head out of the window can be.