How Luca de Meo plans to restore Renault’s va va voom

Luca de Meo, Renault Group boss and architect of an aggressive, all-encompassing EV-based turnaround plan called ‘Renaulution’, says the project’s catchy name occurred to him one morning in the shower.

“I often have ideas while I’m getting ready for work,” he says. “So I use those waterproof notepads you can get on Amazon. I knew straight away this name would work because it combined ‘revolution’, which conveyed a real sense of urgency, and ‘Renault’, which was intended to make clear we would use our own talents for this. There would be no consultants.”

Even from the outside it was obvious the Renault Group had become too orthodox in its approach, says de Meo, who began his automotive career at Renault and remembers its adventurous, avant-garde soul. But because of the extraordinary twin upheavals created by the Covid pandemic and the rush towards electrification, he feels there is a unique opportunity for companies like Renault, even though they’re not market leaders.

“If you see new opportunities and use them before your rivals can, you win,” says de Meo. “You may not have superstar players in the team, or the biggest budget, but if you adapt fast and use teamwork, you win.”

De Meo’s appointment at Renault, announced after he had just completed a five-year turnaround in the fortunes of Seat, the Volkswagen Group’s problem marque, came at the beginning of last year. That was more than a year after his predecessor Carlos Ghosn had been ousted, and Renault was drifting, but de Meo couldn’t take office for another six months because of ‘gardening leave’ restrictions. But by the time he had his feet under his new Renault desk, many of the recovery elements were clear in his head. “Lots of the information I needed was already on the public record,” he says.

He used the first four or five weeks to meet workers and managers, review the company’s factories and facilities and visit engineering and design offices “to see what model plans were in the drawer”, and then he set about assembling a 40-strong, all-Renault team of varied ages and backgrounds to flesh out the Renaulution plan. He christened this group ‘The Source’ and cleared office space on the floor above his own seventhstorey abode so the team was within easy reach. “The script was mostly there already,” he says, “but some of it needed challenging. There was a lot of detail to add and, of course, we needed to put numbers behind everything.”

There were many advantages in doing things this way, de Meo explains: “You find that people who have to make a plan work are very realistic about what they propose in the first place. They buy the story because it is their own. And they tend to build from the bottom up, rather than simply declaring that ‘we’ll build five million cars next year’ and then thinking of ways to make it happen.”

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No change in market positioning is contemplated, Le Vot insists. “We will always be more competitive than the others, whatever the market conditions,” he says. “But the job is not just to deliver low-cost motoring, it is also about defining the essential car.”

The F1 connection

Since Luca de Meo’s arrival, Renault has solidified its commitment to F1 by bringing it under the Alpine banner, making a long-term commitment to keep racing and laying down a three-model EV future for what is for now a one-model company, complete with a partnership with Lotus. “I regard F1 as the PhD of automotive,” says de Meo. “When I arrived at Renault, a lot of smart people said I had to stop the sport after 44 years. Also, I had to close Alpine because it had only one product, and I had to dissolve the team of 400 top engineers at Renault Sport.

“Alpine could be a great basis for an emotional, pure-electric car, a mixture between a mini-Tesla and a mini-Ferrari. Some people in the company decided this was a weight, a drag, and we should stop everything. I disagreed; sometimes you have to see life from another perspective.”