The Renault Corporation first began producing cars in 1897. The company has actually been in business far longer, however. Starting in the 1700’s, Renaults have been involved in producing coffee, salt and various other products. The road to the production of motor vehicles actually began with crinoline dress. Renault produced the steel rods used to keep the dresses stiff. Machining these steel rods indirectly led to machining other steel products.
Louis Renault was involved in engineering and design, his two brothers, Marcel and Ferdinand had much experience in management having been involved for many years in their father’s textile plants.
Louis Renault was responsible for the sale of the first Renault car, which he allowed a friend father to drive. The man was so impressed with the capabilities of the car that he bought it on the spot.
At this time, European road racing was in its infancy, but the brothers immediately recognized that road racing could give their cars tremendous amounts of exposure to the public. Louis and Marcel actively participated in driving their cars in these races until Marcel was killed in the 1903 Paris Madrid race. This would end Louis’s racing career as well but the Renault vehicles still actively participated in the races. It was the Renault AK 90CV that won the very first Grand Prix motor racing event.
Because vehicles were considered as luxury items at the time, Renault expanded beyond passenger cars to produce taxis, buses and other types of industrial vehicles. Just as most other manufacturers, Renault turned its attention to the war efforts during World War I producing ammunition, aircraft and tanks. Renault’s military contributions resulted in Louis Renault being honored by the Allies at the end of World War I.
Between the two world wars that the world would see in the twentieth century, Renault began to expand the company to produce both large and small vehicles. However, during this time the company experienced problems with both the stock market and their labor force. One of the most significant problems facing the car company was distribution of their product. Renault was finally able to contract with a distributor in the north of France and things picked up significantly for the company.
In the mid thirties, the trend of shipping back expensive European cars prior to World War I had all but disappeared and imports to the United States dropped almost to zero.
World War II was to be a difficult challenge for Renault Corporation when France fell to the Axis powers in 1940. Nazi took control of Renault’s factories and wanted him to produce military vehicles and ammunition for them. Although Renault refused to assist the Nazi’s in this way, he was still accused of collaborating with the Germans and was arrested in 1944. Unfortunately, he died in prison without ever being able to defend himself against the hideous accusations.
After World War II, the company was lifted on the same wave of opportunity that was sweeping the rest of the world. Renault was revitalized and began producing quality cars that rivaled the likes of Morris Minor and Volkswagen’s Beetle.
By the 1970’s, the energy crisis was affecting all auto manufacturers and Renault was not immune. They used this stressful period to try to gain more success in the United States market. This was only marginally successful and by the mid seventies, the French car company had withdrawn back to its shores across the Atlantic.