By on July 18, 2011

Having penned my own paean to the late, not-so-widely-lamented Renault Vel Satis after seeing its anodyne Korean replacement, I was somewhat heartened to find that I’m not the only auto writer with something of a weird crush on the strangest luxury car of our day. In the August issue of Evo Magazine, Richard Porter of Sniff Petrol dedicated an entire column [excerpted at vel-satis.org] to his inexplicable love for a car that he admits was

a hopeless old crock [from a time] when Renault’s quality control department couldn’t organise a tasting in a winery.

But, argues Porter, the Vel Satis has a unique appeal in the sense that it was

so self-consciously distanced from its dour German rivals that it was practically falling into La Rochelle Harbour

Whether Porter is genuine in is love for the Vel Satis or simply trolling famously elitist, performance-oriented readership is a question I’ll leave to the Best and Brightest. What is clear is that Porter’s weird love will not be recreated, as Auto Motor und Sport reports that Renault has learned its lesson and will be making “conservative” luxury cars in the future.

Renault’s design boss Laurens van den Acker tells the German buff book that Renault has learned the lesson of adventurous design, and that it will apply lessons learned from experience with the Vel Satis and its equally cool-yet-unsuccessful sibling, the Avantime van-coupe as it goes about building the luxury cars the French government asked for. Leaving aside the issue of French government pressure, van den Acker tells AM und S

Our chief executive Carlos Ghosn has finally empowered us to once again develop a role in our global strategy for a large luxury car. We’re definitely not giving up on this segment. Our [previous] strategy  of taking on the strong German competition with three unusual concepts was bold and a sign of out trust in our brand. But the luxury market is very conservative and prefers 100% quality over major innovation. Our vehicles were very innovative but our quality wasn’t the best at the time.

My earlier ode to the Vel Satis was inspired by the bland lines of Renault’s current “flagship,” the Lattitude (a rebadged Samsung or a stretched Laguna, depending on how you look at it), and again it seems Renault is at risk of whip–sawing back to the extreme of conservative design after the Vel Satis and Avantime. After all, van den Acker’s two biggest claims to fame are the overly-adventurous Mazda Nagare concept, and the hyper-conservative first-gen Ford Escape. If he’s going to get the new Renault flagship right, he’s going to have to prove he can combine mass-appeal and trademark French funkiness into a single, coherent design. Otherwise, Renault’s government-encouraged return to the luxury space will yield little more than a few government contracts.

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14 Comments on “Au Revoir Vel Satis: Renault Promises To Make “Conservative” Luxury Cars...”


  • avatar
    mjz

    I really think Renault should have bought SAAB and positioned it as their upscale European division. SAAB’s are just quirky enough to dovetail nicely with Renault’s offbeat French design philosophy without going overboard with oddities like the Vel Satis or the ever wacky Avantime. Plus SAAB could have shared platforms/powertrains with Infiniti, just as Renaults and Nissans do. A missed opportunity to be sure.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      If they wait a few months, they can buy the brand name at bankruptcy auction. If they go as high as 5€, I hear they’ll get a free sandwich as well.

  • avatar
    Marko

    It was a weird car, but at least it couldn’t be confused with anything else.

    Except, perhaps, for the Suzuki Swift sedan sold in India:
    http://www.autoindiaforum.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/maruti-suzuki-swift-sedan.jpg

  • avatar
    mjz

    In the “When will they ever learn?” department, comes yet another doomed attempt to market “luxury” cars with a brand that has absolutely no luxury connotations to it. See Volkswagen Phaeton. I don’t care how great a car it is, people buy a luxury car for the snob appeal of the brand and the “kiss my ass” dealership experience that they will never receive at a Renault dealership, or Volkswagen, or Hyundai dealer for that matter.

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      At one time it could be done, but only when the entire brand moved upscale, and for relatively small makes.

      BMW and Saab come to mind as brands that were hardly upscale in the 1950s, but managed to develop a premium cachet (obviously Saab lost its way under ownership by a major manufacturer). But in both of those cases it was with companies that were small; it would be like revolving a mountain with a company as large and entrenched as a Renault or Volkswagen.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Hmmmmmmmm… “Conservative Luxury Cars.” Perhaps GM will sell them the tooling for the DTS when the XTS is ready to introduce?

  • avatar
    50merc

    At least that design provided good headroom and easy entry. Those are “conservative luxury” attributes.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    History is filled with unconventional looking cars sold by manufacturers aware of how unconventional their cars appear, and selling it as a sign of good taste, enlightment and class. Expensive taste means good taste plus, not different taste plus. Pouring caviar on a stale Twinkie turns off both caviar connoisseurs and Twinkie lovers as well.

    This is a case of trying too hard. (See also Lady Gaga and “meat dress” as example.)

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    The Vel Satis definitely looks luxurious from the outside. If your aspirational vehicle is a Nissan Versa.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    Renault had been trying to build luxury cars without success since the mid-1970s. The R30, 25, Safrane, Vel Satis – all major disappointments for Renault. Between odd styling, poor quality, and crashing depreciation, the cars never really had a chance. Peugeot has suffered from the same problems.

  • avatar
    Joss

    -Peugeot has suffered the same problem-

    Well yeah cause they often share same parts…

    Sacre bleu those Renault automatic transmissions.. the 25′s was ultra fragile, the Safrane’s was little better until replaced by the Aisin.

    Renault’s launch into the exec market in the mid-70′s with the 20/30 set the way and didn’t get it right. Initially the 20 was offered with an underpowered 1647 fuel injection straight from the 16 TX. The 30 was the same body with a 6 cylinder and cost significantly more i.e. over-priced for what it was.

    Wealthy Parisians prefer Allemande.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    the vel satis is an influential car

    it’s ground zero or ‘patient zero’ for the nissan/renault malaise that goes all the way thru the range

    it is unfortunately quite ugly but i can see how it may have a fan following

    you can almost even seen influences with the 350z, g35/37 and even the skyline gtr


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