Thursday, December 19, 2013

Renault's Not-So Vel Satis Adventure

Renault produced a quirky top-of-their line automobile called the Vel Satis for the 2002-2009 model years including a 2005 facelift.  Sales were around 62,000 cars -- less than 8,000 per year on average.  A short Wikipedia entry on the Vel Satis is here, mentioning that the Latin-appearing name apparently "is a composite of elements of the words Velocity and Satisfaction."  I suppose this is was a fortunate choice, because the words have similar spellings and meanings in both French and English, allowing it to pass undetected by L'Académie française.

The man in charge of Renault styling at the time was Patrick Le Quément, a French-born but British educated designer who was given considerable authority when he was hired in 1987.  He retired in 2009 and began designing boats.  His current project is the establishment of a design school focusing on "sustainability."

Among his goals was the establishment of a new design language for Renault, one that, according to some accounts I vaguely recall, could be identified as French.  And during a period when automobile styling was becoming increasingly internationalized, when cars looked less and less British, German, American and so forth, he did succeed in creating distinctive designs for Renault.

The Vel Satus is an interesting case.  Renault wanted a new high-end model that might compete with Mercedes and BMW.  Yet the resulting car did not embody power, prestige, glamour or very many other traits a potential buyer would expect when shopping for a new luxury car.  The result was poor sales and probably a loss of money on the project.


Here are views of the Vel Satis concept car from 1998.  It's more interesting than the production model which dropped every feature aside from the design of the grille.  A styling touch that intrigues me is the juxtaposition of curved surfaces at the rear as seen in the lower photo.  The roof exhibits a strong horizontal-plane curve when seen from above.  This is echoed in a lesser way by the vertical-plane curve at the extreme rear as seen from the side, the downward curve at the rear of the fender line that continues as a roll over the trunk and rear bumper area.  In contrast to these curves is a wedge-shaped front end.  The result is not what I'd call beautiful, but it certainly offers stylists food for thought.

These are images of the initial production Vel Satis, the second and third being factory photos.  The production car is definitely more practical than the concept version, but is chunky and nondescript styling-wise.  No wonder it failed to compete with BMWs and Mercedes.

This is a face-lifted 2005 model.  The most obvious exterior change is the positioning and coloring of the grille bars.  The wheels also differ from the earlier version.

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