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Renault's retro revival: Much loved Renault 5 and 4 to return electric


You know the scenario. The new ‘grand fromage’ boss arrives to inspect the troops and, to the alarm of long-serving executives, starts nosing around the half-forgotten parts of his or her new empire. Just to see what’s there.

And that sparks a revolution.

Which is what happened when Renault’s new chief executive, the mercurial and ever-curious Italian, Luca de Meo, landed up at the troubled French car-maker’s HQ late last year with a mission to shake things up.

The Renault 5 will be the first to get a new, electric incarnation after the firm's new boss Luca de Meo (pictured) discovered a prototype idea in the car giant's design studio

The Renault 5 will be the first to get a new, electric incarnation after the firm’s new boss Luca de Meo (pictured) discovered a prototype idea in the car giant’s design studio

The Renault 4 may also be set to make a comeback as the French car giant embraces the trend for retro-styled motors

The Renault 4 may also be set to make a comeback as the French car giant embraces the trend for retro-styled motors

While digging around one of the dustier regions of the car giant’s design studio with his posse of underlings, the former boss of SEAT and Fiat, came across a half-hidden full-scale prototype model of a small hatchback that intrigued him.

He asked a designer what it was. It’s a study for a modern take on a retro hatchback, came the resigned reply. But we’ve been told that Renault doesn’t do retro, so it’s not going anywhere.

It was at this exact moment that de Meo experienced a classic light-bulb moment — which he told me was pure ‘gut’ reaction.

And, then, with a wave of ‘fairy godmother’ de Meo’s wand, the car in question was instantly transformed from being an overlooked, half-forgotten and under-appreciated Cinderella design destined for the dustbin of history, to being a glamorous star that will indeed now go to the ball.

A Renault 5 for the 2020s: The French car giant has revealed a concept car but will a new electric Renault 5 really end up looking like this

A Renault 5 for the 2020s: The French car giant has revealed a concept car but will a new electric Renault 5 really end up looking like this

The Renault 5 will be reborn as a pure electric hatchback to 'reconnect with its past'

The Renault 5 will be reborn as a pure electric hatchback to ‘reconnect with its past’

When de Meo outlined his blueprint to transform his company for the challenges of the 21st century earlier this year, it was his plan to resurrect and update the classic Renault 5 super-mini as a pure electric hatchback that became the centrepiece of his recovery plan and will see the firm ‘reconnect with its past’. 

The original Renault 5 gained cult status during the 1980s and was driven by the likes of Joanna Lumley, photographed washing hers outside her flat in London’s Holland Park, and by actress Barbara Carrera in the 007 movie Never Say Never Again starring Sean Connery in 1983.

De Meo, who in his former role at Italy’s Fiat spearheaded the recent revival of the retro 500 – now reborn as an electric-only supermini – told me: ‘At the time, the 5 was not even there as a project. 

‘The whole thing was done in a month and a half. 

‘Sometimes there’s no big strategy. It’s from the guts.’ 

But it won’t stop there. The classic Renault 4 is likely to be next for a retro reincarnation. The company has already filed a patent for a modern interpretation of its shape.

And when later asked by Auto Express if the ‘4’ and others could be in line for the retro treatment, de Meo replied: ‘Why not? There have been so many products in Renault’s past that have made history. It would be a pity not to reconnect with that long tradition.

‘We are not here only to look in the rear-view mirror. We are here to reinvent things. I think Renault 5 is a good example of this.’

It is all part of de Meo’s plan to get the Renault Group back on an even financial keel: profitable, and with a fully revised, revamped and electrified model line-up that will span 24 vehicles over the next five years, covering the Renault, Dacia, Alpine and Lada brands.

Side-by-side: A classic Renault 5 from 1972 next to its pure electric descendant. While the clean narrow lines of the narrow original car don't looks so similar to the new version, the latter echoes later Renault 5's and especially the fire-breathing Turbo

Side-by-side: A classic Renault 5 from 1972 next to its pure electric descendant. While the clean narrow lines of the narrow original car don’t looks so similar to the new version, the latter echoes later Renault 5’s and especially the fire-breathing Turbo

The Renault 5 was France's biggest selling car between 1972 and 1986 and earned cult status when a road legal version of the 5 Turbo Group B rally car was launched. The new car takes clear styling cues from that

The Renault 5 was France’s biggest selling car between 1972 and 1986 and earned cult status when a road legal version of the 5 Turbo Group B rally car was launched. The new car takes clear styling cues from that

Renault’s current electric runabout 

Renault already has a battery-powered runabout and when it comes to pioneering electric cars in Britain, the Zoe often doesn’t get the kudos it deserves. 

As an affordable (by electric car standards) and practical family hatchback, the Renault Zoe did as much to promote electric vehicle ownership in Britain as the luxury Tesla and Nissan’s heralded Leaf, which won European Car of the Year back in 2011.

Choice in the small electric car market has stepped up a gear recently, with Peugeot, Mini, Fiat, VW, Vauxhall and Honda all joining the party, but Renault has also been busy refining and improving the Zoe – and extending its range to 238 miles. 

So, what is it like to drive and live with? Simon Lambert spent a fortnight with a Zoe to find out, read the Renault Zoe review here.

Nearly a third (30 per cent) of all Renault group sales will be fully electric vehicles by 2025.

The original Renault 5 hatchback went on sale from 1972 and sold more than 8.5 million cars before evolving in 1984 as the second generation Supercinq, which achieved more than 3.2 million sales.

This was replaced in 1990 by the Renault Clio, as epitomised in the UK by Nicole and Papa, although it remained in some markets as late as 1996.

The Renault 5 was France’s biggest selling car between 1972 and 1986 and earned cult status when a road legal version of the 5 Turbo Group B rally car – to which the electric revival bears a particular likeness – was launched.

The 5 Turbo, of which 4,987 were built, is today a highly sought-after collectible model which has sold at auction for as much as £80,000.

The 5 Turbo, of which 4,987 were built, is today a highly sought-after collectible model which has sold at auction for as much as £80,000. 

The 5 Turbo, of which 4,987 were built, is today a highly sought-after collectible model which has sold at auction for as much as £80,000. 

The boxier Renault 4 went on sale in July 1961 and more than 8 million were sold across 100 countries over the course of 31 years.

Renault said the 5’s return is ‘the rebirth of a cult car, more modern than ever’ and part of its plans ‘to reconnect with its past’ – and we should see it on sale before 2025.

Eyes on the road, Prime Minister

Boris Johnson is being urged to save Britain’s world-leading historic and classic car industry – including 100,000 jobs that depend on the £18 billion-a-year automotive heritage sector.

Campaigners for the newly formed Historic and Classic Vehicles Alliance (hcva.co.uk) have warned the Prime Minister – himself a car enthusiast – that they face being buried alive by a ‘bureaucratic nightmare’ of red tape and scuppered by unfairly targeted ‘green’ regulations that could see millions of much-loved vintage vehicles driven off UK roads.

The cover of Boris Johnson's 'Life in the Fast Lane' book - a guide to cars

The cover of Boris Johnson’s ‘Life in the Fast Lane’ book – a guide to cars

Business leaders, motor industry experts and politicians — including a former Tory transport minister and F1, supercar and green vehicle designer Professor Gordon Murray – have urged the PM to help keep the valuable sector alive.

They hope Mr Johnson – a former motoring columnist who wrote a book called Life In The Fast Lane: The Johnson Guide To Cars – will help ‘to secure the future of a great British industry’. 

Skilled UK jobs are under threat because red-tape and unfair, unfocused green policies risk ‘strangling’ one of the nation’s world-leading industries.

Three million classic and historical cars on UK roads are valued at over £12 billion, support 113,000 jobs, create an annual international trade turnover worth £18.3 billion, and generate around £3 billion tax revenue.

Conservative East Sussex MP and former transport minister Nus Ghani said: ‘The classic and historic vehicle industry is a great British success story that gives pleasure to millions and it would be disastrous if it suffered serious damage through neglect or ignorance.’

Want to find out more about the new alliance? More details of the campaign can be found at www.hcva.co.uk

Want to find out more about the new alliance? More details of the campaign can be found at www.hcva.co.uk

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