Laurens van den Acker wins Sturmey Award for forward-thinking automobile design

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The Sturmey Award is handed to the motoring trade’s most celebrated innovators
Renault’s incumbent design boss has instigated a brand new period of contemporary type on the automobile maker. We have fun his success

Laurens van den Acker, Renault’s tall, soft-spoken head of design, could not appear to be a completely fledged revolutionary, however he has emerged from the previous decade as one of many world automotive trade’s only disrupters-in-chief. 

Inside weeks of becoming a member of Renault in 2009 this pleasant, 53-year-old Dutchman – working intently with a 550-strong inventive group “stuffed with expertise from 30 nations” – devised a brand new path of journey for Renault design and efficiently offered its advantages to a administration fighting the consequences of the monetary crash. At prime velocity he set about revolutionising the look of each Renault, launching a collection of gorgeous fashions (and ditching duffers alongside the best way) to put this most French of automobile giants on a restoration path it couldn’t in any other case have achieved. 

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Not content material with this, van den Acker and his henchmen additionally launched a intelligent and optimistic succession of idea automobiles aimed toward restoring the emotional design values Renault had all the time embraced however which it had these days misplaced. They hold doing it. “Our ideas,” the designer explains, “are our promise to proceed seducing our prospects with emotional designs.” 

Automotive design revolutions aren’t new. The standard method is for a brand new designer to decide on a handy mannequin then to work by way of the vary, hoping for a styling coherence that turns into tougher and tougher to take care of. Van den Acker’s key innovation – and the rationale he deserves Autocar’s 2019 Sturmey Award, handed to the trade’s nice authentic thinkers – is that he found, articulated and put into apply a design imaginative and prescient for Renault’s complete output of autos. Renaults are “voitures à vivre, or automobiles for dwelling”, he says, with every mannequin distinct but possessing a particular household persona. 

In keeping with van den Acker’s core design imaginative and prescient, the development of a human life may be represented as six petals across the centre of a flower – “a marguerite” – with the centre representing life itself. The primary petal is love, generator of life, and the successive petals symbolize early exploration, marriage and household life, work life, recreation and amassed expertise. Every part pertains to a type of Renault mobility, they usually’re all associated. Thus a Renault Grasp van can relate to a Clio or Espace. Or a Twingo or Captur… And so forth. 

Van den Acker’s Renault journey started late in 2008 when, whereas fortunately ensconced at Mazda, he was contacted out of the blue by Renault and supplied the design chief’s job. International trade was grappling with its worst monetary disaster for many years. Amid the uncertainty, van den Acker was impressed by then Renault chief Patrick Pelata’s easy instruction to “make nice automobiles”. It was the proper transient. By February 2009 he had agreed to affix Renault; by Might (after a month to shine his French dialog) he was working alongside the eminent, outgoing chief Patrick Le Quément; by September he was in cost. 

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“Renault design has an unimaginable popularity,” says van den Acker. “It was clear from my first day that now we have fantastic expertise right here. And Patrick Le Quément had moved design to a excessive stage: we weren’t accountable to engineering or product planning however on to the CEO. However instances have been very robust; it felt just like the sky was falling in. And individuals who had cherished Renault for years had fallen out of affection with our merchandise.” Critics talked of a disconnect between Renault’s glorious ideas and its dowdy, disparate manufacturing fashions. 

“All people knew adjustments have been wanted,” says van den Acker. “I used to be the brand new man and time was brief. I couldn’t take time to grasp the Renault ethos; one thing needed to be finished. However I additionally knew there could be a honeymoon interval. Not an extended one given the monetary local weather, however from expertise I knew that your new bosses can’t kill your very first concept. 

“I made a decision to push this chance to the restrict by developing with an idea that will have the quickest potential affect. It needed to present our new path and reveal our new design DNA. We additionally needed to exhibit our optimism for the long run. So we got here up with a two-seater sports activities idea referred to as DeZir and confirmed it on the Paris present within the second half of my first 12 months.” 

DeZir actually stopped the site visitors. It was a fantastic, modern coupé like no Renault manufacturing automobile in historical past, coated in stunning, sensual curves and surfaces that adopted human kinds. With that automobile, van den Acker revealed his six-petalled flower philosophy. The DeZir idea, van den Acker revealed courageously, represented ‘love’ on the flower. 

“We wanted that automobile to create a ‘wow’,” says van den Acker. “It didn’t must be mental, simply stunning. I requested my designers for one thing attractive for 2 folks. This was how they responded.” 

Critics briefly questioned the relevance of such an unique idea in a time of disaster, however van den Acker quickly silenced them by explaining the automobile’s relevance to the Renault aesthetics of the long run. 

“German automobiles have been very Teutonic,” he defined, “and Fords and Hyundais very kinetic. There appeared to me an empty gap within the design spectrum of mainstream automobiles for sensual, attractive designs – the place as soon as inhabited by Alfa Romeo and Fiat – which was now open to us. This was our likelihood.” 

Fortunately, says van den Acker, the fourth-generation Clio supermini was in its early improvement levels when he arrived. It offered the proper alternative for Renault to precise its new design values. The DeZir’s influences would seem first on the Clio, Renault’s biggestselling mannequin. It was the proper take a look at. “Being widespread is noble,” he says. “Some designers solely need to do Porsches. However we have been fortunate to maneuver straight onto Clio. 

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The brand new mannequin obtained a tumultuous welcome when it appeared in showrooms in 2012, two years after DeZir, then in 2013 the supermini-based Renault Captur was revealed to even louder cheers: it immediately turned the world’s best-looking B-segment SUV, expressing the brand new Clio’s design language brilliantly in a market sector quickly increasing to gasoline a gross sales restoration. 

All of a sudden the inspiration of van den Acker’s six-petal car-life philosophy was revealed for all. We’d moved from ‘love’ into ‘exploration’ and ‘household life’. It was all of the sudden simple to see how a whole redesigned vary may utilise the identical philosophy. It’s a gross oversimplification to say that extending this method proper by way of the Renault vary – Twingo, Zoe, Espace, Trafic and all of the others – was simple, however in contrast with the creation of that first impressed trio of DeZir, Clio and Captur, it actually proceeded with much less controversy and rather more normal approval. 

Alongside the journey, a collection of eyegrabbing Renault ideas appeared, aimed initially at promoting the brand new look and philosophy (DeZir, 2010) however later promising that the progress would by no means cease (the Trezor of 2016 and the EZ-GO of 2018). 

Then a few months in the past, a brand new design part started. Van den Acker and his notably tight-knit group, united by their recognition of a market-leading mission and their respect for its chief, launched a fifth-generation Clio, the primary time one among their new era had been renewed. Nonetheless, having the chance to criticise your individual work is optimistic, says the designer. 

“One good era isn’t sufficient to construct a robust model,” says van den Acker. “You want not less than two generations – to repair points with the primary mannequin, to remain constant and robust, and to present prospects much more causes to purchase our automobiles.” 

And after that? “Possibly you do a 3rd era, or perhaps it’s time for another person to present the vary a unique push. In design, it’s a must to keep humble. Whether or not I’m the correct man to do a 3rd era is a query that actually will must be requested. However perhaps not but.”

The important thing automobiles

Renault Dezir: Authentic attractive van den Acker idea exhibiting supposed path of Renault design from 2010 and illustrating the ‘flower’ philosophy for a whole automobile household.

Renault Trezor: One other two-seater idea however rather more radical than DeZir, electrically powered, with autonomous functionality. Designed to vow an thrilling future.

Renault Clio four: First expression of DeZir design influences in manufacturing, rapturously obtained available in the market. “It would look simple but it surely wasn’t,” says van den Acker.

Renault EZ-GO: Intelligent 2018 idea for a six-person, four-wheel-steer city shuttle, summoned by cell phone. Exhibits that even autonomous automobiles may look terrific.

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Renault Captur: Pioneering B-segment SUV confirmed how fortunately Clio and DeZir design values could possibly be expressed on a child soft-roader. Turned a smash-hit gross sales success.

Renault Clio 5: Substitute for authentic van den Acker Clio four goals to strengthen strengths of its predecessor and “repair its points”. No design is ideal, its designer says.

Van den Acker on…

His profession problem: “In hindsight my entire profession led to this. I discovered to design in Germany, to handle in Japan, had enjoyable at Mazda. However Renault had huge expectations. Was I the correct man?”

Designing the Dezir: “We began with the entire group, selected seven proposals and shortly minimize it right down to 4, then one. The primary idea needed to be attractive. We did DeZir and Clio on the identical time.”

Renault’s early downside: “I wanted to search out what was mistaken. Was it expertise? Politics? Administration? Many individuals cherished Renault, however there was nothing to fall in love with.”

Creating the ‘flower’ philosophy: “I did that in my first two weeks. I used to be the brand new man, instances have been robust and there was no time to lose. I labored flat out. You’ll be able to cowl plenty of floor for those who work 24 hours a day.”

Promoting the brand new method to his bosses: “I met Patrick Pelata to clarify my love-explore-family flower concept. His eyebrows went up, however he didn’t say something. I’ve discovered in the event that they don’t say no, it’s a sure.”

Discovering ‘Frenchness’: “That is my seventh nation. After a whilst you be taught that you simply’ll be happier and get on a lot faster for those who do your greatest to understand the tradition, reasonably than questioning it on a regular basis.”

Rigours of the job: “We now have 550 folks right here, and we’re all the time operating 50-60 tasks at a time: facelifts, present automobiles, superior tasks in addition to new fashions. So there’s loads to do.” 

Making ‘completely happy’ Renaults: “At first folks advised me Renaults seemed ‘triste’ or ‘gris’ — unhappy or gray. My sturdy feeling was we needed to convey the color again. Renaults should convey the enjoyment of life.” 

His proudest achievement: “If I’ve designed something good at Renault, I feel it’s this flower idea, the marguerite. It has guided us to the success now we have achieved with our new fashions.”

Faults and foibles: “Automotive designers aren’t artists. You could design to your firm and state of affairs, not for your self. In my early profession I took some time to be taught that. The outcomes aren’t arduous to search out.” 

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Learn extra

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Renault design boss Laurens van den Acker on luxurious automobiles and designing the following Clio​


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