The quirky and innovative design that spawned Renault's 5, Espace people carrier and had the new Megane 'shakin' that ass' [in a TV commercial] may not be lost forever.

The new Laguna, to be launched here in the UK on 19 October, is high on quality, but low on looks according to first reports in the British press - low to the point of bland.

But Renault president and chief executive Carlos Ghosn said "The Laguna segment in Europe demands a refined and classic design. Renault has seen some original and innovative design and engineering over the past few years and those people are still there, but we do not build cars for us, we build them for the customers."

Ghosn was on a flying visit to London to spread the 'quality' message behind the new model to journalists and dealers. He was inevitably hi-jacked by the design question.

He added: "Around half the Laguna sales in Europe are to fleet buyers and in the UK that rises to 70%. Fleet buyers are interested in total cost of ownership, fuel consumption, warranty and maintenance.

"The new Megane, which you will see next year, will have a very modern design - we are going to be very specific in the look of our vehicles according to the segments in which they are sold.

"We need to ensure we are giving customers what they want before we amaze and stun them. Yes, Renault has done some clever things in the past but the rate of success is low. Vehicles like the Espace, 5 and Megane were extremely successful, but others went to the grave very early and cost us a lot of money.

"The Aventime and Vel Satis ultimately did nothing for the company."

Right now Ghosn is focused on the Renault Commitment Plan he unveiled early last year: the Laguna to be among the top three vehicles for quality, a 6% operating margin and the sale of an additional 800,000 vehicles by 2009.

Laguna is the first step. "We have tested it extensively to the point where we can predict how we will get on in quality surveys because we know what they measure and how they measure it," he said.

"We feel confident with the car because we have exhausted pretty well all the test procedures."

Investment for the new Laguna stands at EUR1bn (GBP700m). The air conditioning was tested in Dubai over a period of time at temperatures ranging between 38 and 47 degrees C. Some 200 cars drove 6m km in weather extremes through Australia and Russia.

Ghosn added: "Everyone in the engineering team has gone the extra mile to make this car a success. There is now a lot of motivation among the dealers. The planning and preparation has been done, the product is strong. Now we let the consumers decide."

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