De Meo’s experience is particularly relevant here: when he worked at Fiat, he was largely responsible for launching the revived 500 city car. That machine, of course, arguably turned around the fortunes of the entire Fiat brand. And that continues. There’s a reason why Fiat chose to make its first electric vehicle a 500, after all.
That’s why de Meo revealed a new Renault 5 electric hatch as the cornerstone of the Renault Group’s bold business plan. The ‘Renaulution’ is as ambitious in scope as it is clunky in title, involving refocusing the group’s four brands, the launch of 24 new models in the next five years and a heavy focus in growing its electric vehicle line-up.
Frankly, the scale of the plan makes it slightly hard to comprehend, although some of that could be due to my limited imagination and the press release landing at 0700hr, when I had yet to be fuelled by Weetabix.
But the plan is hugely significant, including a renewed focus on regaining ground in the mid-size C-segment, reinventing Alpine as an electric-only avant-garde brand and moving the Renault brand upmarket.
De Meo is a marketer as much as a manager, though, and he would certainly have known that he needed something to prove that his bold plan was creditable and tangible. And he needed something that would provide the interest, impetus and excitement to really drive the reinvention of the Renault brand and, in turn, fuel the revival of the whole Renault Group.
He did that at Fiat with the new 500. And he’s aiming to do it at Renault with the new 5 EV. As a reinvention of a cult product, the 5 Prototype certainly has the potential to spark a mighty bonfire. It looks brilliant, with a clear nod to the old 5 but enough modern styling cues that it seems fully fit for the modern electric age. It’s premium but accessible. It is, essentially, everything de Meo says he wants Renault to become.
Can it work? Well, that’s the bigger challenge. The Fiat 500 was a huge hit, but it never really lifted the whole brand to new levels. The 500 brand arguably became more prestigious than the Fiat brand. De Meo’s plan seems designed to avoid that happening again, with the suggestion that the retro-styling of the new 5 EV will be infused into future Renault designs (it’s already been seen on the forthcoming Mégane eVision EV).
And, of course, the market is different. When the 500 was launched, the only other retro cars on the market were the likes of the Mini and the Volkswagen Beetle. But in the electric age, car firms have frequently turned to old nameplates to give some cachet, recognition and prestige to new EVs.
There’s the 500 electric, of course, as well as the Mini Electric. And, on a larger scale, the Ford Mustang Mach-E and, potentially, the new Jaguar XJ. Basically, the retro-nameplate EV is already a well-trodden path, which reduces some of the novelty of the 5 EV. And you can also question if the 5 brand name is as well known globally as it is in France (in the US, it was called Le Car, for starters). Still, de Meo has form, and the Renault 5 Prototype is a fine starting point.