French carmaker Renault broke the mould for budget hatchbacks in India when it introduced the Kwid, with its chunky, crossover-like stance back in 2015. Although sales of the Kwid have tapered off recently, Renault's small car did get off to a cracking start with design becoming a key differentiator. So it's no surprise that Renault's senior VP, corporate design, Laurens van den Acker, believes that in emerging markets such as ours, design plays an increasingly important role in determining a car purchase.
"I’m convinced that for an Indian customer the buying of a car is such an important transition in their life; a car has so much status and so much impact that it reflects back on the family; and it has to be a respected choice, otherwise he won’t buy it. It also has to have a positive image, otherwise he will not make the investment," he told Autocar India in a recent interview.
Interestingly, van den Acker mentioned that in European countries too, design is making a difference for Renault.
"We have seen the reasons for purchase change at Renault. Earlier, the main reason to buy a Renault was price; second reason was loyalty; third reason was design. The image of the brand was going down, profits were going down, volumes were going down."
"However, since 2012, we’ve seen an uptake since the arrival of the Clio and Captur. Design is now number one, brand loyalty is number two and price is number three, and our profits and volumes have gone up," he said, adding that although the improvement isn't entirely because of design, it has definitely had a positive impact.
Renault recently revealed the EZ-Ultimo – an electric-powered autonomous concept car designed as a luxury vehicle for short journeys. Van den Acker believes that in many ways, just as the Kwid made features such as the touchscreen accessible, the EZ-Ultimo will make new technology accessible to a larger customer base.
Talking about Renault's India operations, the French carmaker is sharpening focus on growing its brand, even as it grapples with weak sales (47,064 units in Apr-Oct, down 26 percent). Acknowledging the tough time, van den Acker said, "India is one of the most complicated, complex and difficult markets for any car manufacturer, but we won’t give up, and next year, we will have an interesting vehicle." The brand is currently working on a new MPV (codename: RBC) for India, which has been spotted testing in the country.
In conversation with Laurens van den Acker, Senior Vice President, Corporate Design, Groupe Renault
What was the idea behind the EZ-Ultimo concept?
It’s a part of a trilogy of concepts. It’s time for us to look at the future and one of the things that is strongly developing and fast is mobility services. This time, we decided to do an autonomous vehicle that gives you a premium experience, and it’s accessible for all because you don’t have to buy this vehicle to use it – you can literally buy 10min or 10hr of this car. We might not be the first to introduce new tech – because normally premium brands beat the rest to it, as they can afford it – but we try to be the first to make it accessible. The Kwid is a good example – it had a touchscreen and the style of an SUV, all while being affordable. As strange as it sounds, the philosophy behind the Kwid and the EZ-Ultimo is very similar, even though you can see the differences between the two.
In the future, people may just want to own a premium car to drive on the weekends and use shared mobility for their everyday commute, which might affect brands like yours. Is that something to worry about?
Possibly, yes, but I can turn it around and say, “Look, I have an affordable car for my daily use – 90 percent of the time – and the 10 percent of time when I want a premium experience, I’ll get it through a mobility service.” So are mobility services a threat for premium vehicles? We managed five years of increase of volumes, market share and profit in Europe. I’m not sure if we managed to increase and eat into the market share of premium brands or whether we grew and lured buyers away from budget brands. I know premium brands are still growing because they are coming into our territory. So they are a real danger I’d say, for us, but so are other brands.
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