FRANCE: Pelata slams 'love it or hate it' Renault designs
What's the difference in turning round a company in Japan and doing the same in France?
In terms of management commitment, not a lot, according to Renault president and chief executive officer Carlos Ghosn, announcing his new strategy for the company fresh on the heels of his Nissan turnaround.
But the circumstances are very different this time. Nissan was a financial basket case while Renault is clearly not.
"In Nissan we had a company with a $20 billion debt, a production capacity utilisation of 50 percent, a one percent operating margin and a management system that was totally demoralised. It needed shock treatment," he said.
"Restructuring at Nissan was essential and inevitable. We had to motivate people for the future and the turnaround came as a result of a product offensive. We were told in Japan that turning Nissan around was impossible but we did it because the management was committed and we made clear commitments as to the future of the company.
"Renault does not need restructuring, it needs growth and an improvement in its brand image. And that's the philosophy behind Renault Commitment 2009. It is why we are looking at a new range of luxury vehicles, starting with Laguna next year, sports cars, SUVs, 4x4s and crossovers. We cannot be reliant on one vehicle (Megane) as we are currently."
There will be no short cuts, either. Ghosn quickly scotched rumours that Renault could buy Jaguar. A luxury brand would have to be all the French company's own work.
While Ghosn pointed to differences between the situations he inherited at the two companies, Patrick Pelata who has followed the chief from Renault to Nissan and back was much more forthright in his views.
Less than a year into his new role as product planning chief he launched into the design team that developed the radical rear end for vehicles such as the Megane, Vel Satis and Avantime.
The look, he said, polarised customer views - you either love it or you hate it. He wants designs that will have broader appeal
He added: "There have not been enough people involved in the planning or design process."
He slammed recent Renault design as being badly managed while decision making had been poor. "We have to try to understand what customers want and be very clear with our design otherwise you send out mixed messages.
"We don't want designs the boss will like or ones that will win design contests, we want designs that people want to buy," he said.
"The Megane is a very nice car but we have lost a few people along the way. We have already put new processes into place and the design team is already thinking differently. If they reject the new way then they will probably not stay."
Even the Modus launched last year came in for criticism. "Its design is just not coherent. There are some aspects of it which are very good but it is not carried through. It is not just about design talent it is about managing product design," he added.
Pelata said he was not expecting an immediate new look for Renault, however. "First you have to get the individual cars right, the 'family' look is secondary, that's the way we turned Nissan around."
He admitted that some aspects of the design for the new Twingo have already been scrapped and are currently being re-worked while new Laguna, due late next year, had also been delayed by "a few weeks".
The new Renault Commitment 2009 announced by Ghosn is a big change for Renault, Pelata added. "Renault has always spoken a lot but not always delivered a lot. We have to revive the brand in Europe and grow it around the world."
Central to this growth is the Logan, built with Romanian affiliate Dacia, which will also be assembled in India, Iran, Russia and possibly South Africa.
He said: "We are currently looking at a plan to build the car in South Africa using capacity at the Nissan plant in Gauteng."
Renault Samsung in South Korea will also be a key player for our presence in the Asian markets.
The new strategy is committed to hiring around 3,000 new engineers and Pelata said the greatest number of these would be employed in Korea, Brazil and Romania, "close to our production facilities and markets. It will speed up our processes."