Laurens van den Acker took over as head of Renault Group design in 2009 and presided over a successful revamping of the Renault brand’s lineup. Now, under new CEO Luca de Meo, he is stepping into a less hands-on role at the automaker as executive vice president, group design. Van den Acker spoke with Automotive News Europe News Editor Peter Sigal at the Munich auto show about his new position, the coming Renault Megane E-Tech Electric, and the future Renault 5 and Renault 4ever retro-influenced EVs.
How does the Megane E-Tech Electric compact represent Renault’s design DNA? It features an organic shape but with sharp technological detailing.
Megane E-Tech for me is more than just a vehicle. It’s also a symbol of the Renaulution plan, for the intent and the vision of the company, because it’s a full-electric car without compromise. And I thought it was very brave of Luca [de Meo] to call it the Megane, because by doing that you show there is no way back [to internal combustion]. It’s the heart of our lineup. It’s a very important car because for Renault to be able to sell electric vehicles, they will be more expensive. We need to upgrade the design, the finish and the quality, and give it enough substance in terms of technology and sensations that [the higher price] really is justified. Design wise, it’s in the middle, because it’s the vehicle that is at the end of my reign at Renault design and the start of Gilles Vidal’s. You can already see the influence of Luca — we did a Megane show car for him, and he pushed the production car to get as close as we possibly could to the show car. And this had a really positive influence because he pushed the size of the wheels, he pushed the finishes, the colors.
Can you talk about the interior screen layout, in an inverse “L” position with more than 700 square centimeters of nearly continuous screen space from the instrument panel through to a deep touch screen, except for a small air vent?
What we have seen is despite everything there is an inflation in screen size. This is natural — if my phone is bigger than yours, I am more modern, I am more progressive, I am richer. But there is a benefit. And we felt that the vertical layout is the easiest if you want to use the navigation features. The challenge for us was how to integrate the air vents in a way that looks natural.
The Google Automotive System interface is also a big step forward. The ability to use Google apps, Google maps, Play Store, Assistant — that is really going to simplify things for a lot of people, right?
In the end, this is what people use in their cars. You can forget your smartphone at home but you will still have all your apps in your car. People will find the same digital environment in the car as in their smartphones. This is just a fantastic USP [unique selling proposition]. There are many, many complaints about multimedia systems in cars, no matter who does it, and 80 percent of those complaints are linked to navigation. By not trying to be a better navigation integrator than Google, we hopefully will reduce our potential complaints.