The three Renault Brothers, Louis, Marcel, and Fernand would have probably spent their lives in relative anonymity, running the family textile business in the Boulogne-Billancourt region of Northern France if Louis, the youngest of the three brothers had not become entranced with the concept of motorized transportation.

Louis’ fixation with cars began in 1898, when he was just 21 years old and recently qualified as an engineer. With pressure on him to bring his engineering skills to the family business, Renault instead insisted that he would like some time to investigate the potential of this exciting new industry that was captivating the world.

The young engineer wasted little time in putting his ideas in motion, building some prototypes that so impressed the rest of the family, that they rapidly reached the decisin to invest in the new project.

While the Renaults were confident that their new enterprise would be a success, just to be sure they established the company as a separate entity, the Société Renault Frères.

The family’s role in Renault Cars was clearly defined with Louis given “ carte blanche” on design and production while Marcel and Fernand handled all aspects of sales, finance, and general administration.

The first major technological breakthrough for the young company came in 1903 when they began to produce their own engines, ending their association with De Dion-Bouton, which while it had been a very worthwhile learning experience for Louis and his production team had also been an expensive one.

Renault's big break came in 1905 when the newly formed Societe des Automobiles de Place taxi company handed him the contract to build the first fleet of metered taxicabs.

Similar orders followed from taxi fleet operators in London and New York. By 1907, Renault had produced two-thirds of all the taxicabs operating in Paris and half the cabs in London.

Meanwhile, the passing of his two elder brothers meant that Louis Renault was left at the age of just thirty-two to run what had become the largest car manufacturing company in France, and among the most important in the World.

Undaunted by this massive task, Louis took and maintained absolute control of his firm for the next thirty-five years, proving himself to be a shrewd businessman as much as a brilliant technical innovator.

Renault’s policy of continuous but controlled expansion began to cause a knock-on effect with production space becoming limited.

To understand how to overcome the problem, Louis Renault made some trips to the United States, spending some time with Henry Ford at his massive plant in Michigan, picking up a lot of ideas on how to improve his production processes.

Renault realised that was needed was to centralise the company's production facilities, instead of having them staggered around his two major plants, one in Billancourt and the other in Meudon.

In 1919, Renault began to slowly and inconspicuously buy parcels of lands on the Île Seguin Island, on the river Seine towards the southwest area of Paris.

After buying the entire island, Louis Renault invested a colossal sum of money constructing a state of the art production that covered the whole Île Seguin Island where he put into action the logistic theories and practices he had learned in the US.

With the extensive manufacturing facilities that they had at their disposal, during the early part of the Twenties, Renault appeared to be ruling the roost in domestic car sales, offering buyers a wide choice of options across a very broad spectrum.

Despite the economy being strong, sales for the new models were not as Louis had hoped for. What didn’t help the situation was that Renault refused to compete in the "people's cars" sector which was growing in popularity, as money became scarcer towards the end of the Twenties.

As stubborn as he was driven, Louis Renault refused to accept the fact that with a choice of seven different models compared to the two or three that Citroen were offering at the same time, why his biggest rival was slowly overtaking him in sales.

To Renault’s great chagrin during the early Thirties Citroen eventually pushed his company from their pedestal, becoming the largest car producers in France.

However, that situation dramatically reversed itself in 1934, when Citroen, went bankrupt, and were rapidly acquired by Michelin Tire Company, their largest creditor.

Overnight, Renault found themselves back at the top of the tree, not so much by the merits of the cars, and more by Louis’s strict insistence not to be dependent on France’s financial institutions.

The Renault company, unlike Citroen, had successfully diversified into other areas, which helped to buy the time to see out the slump as well as look at the cars they were offering to the public and overcome the sales resistance they were encountering.

Renault eventually gave way to the concept that should have been glaringly obvious, and by the late Thirties had downsized their range, albeit slightly, while offering two entry-level vehicles, the Celtaquatre which sold very well, but not enough to prevent it being replaced by the Juvaquatre in 1938.

After France had been overrun by the Nazis in 1940, all of the French car producers were forced to abandon producing cars and switch over to constructing military equipment, in particular, heavy vehicles for the Germans.

This meant that the Renault plants were legitimate and regular targets for Allied bombing, and they all suffered severe collateral damage, with the Billancourt plant being particularly hard hit.

Paris was liberated in August 1944, and Louis Renault was faced with the task of getting his factories back into production. Before he could get his sleeves rolled up, instead the industrialist found himself in custody, a supposed collaborator of the occupation forces during World War II.

For reasons that remain clouded in mystery to this day, Louis Renault passed away in late 1944 while awaiting trial in liberated France.

After his passing, the Société des Automobiles Renault, the company that he personally nurtured through four decades was unceremoniously nationalized by the provisional government of France; the only company forced to comply with Nazi orders to suffer this fate.

In keeping with the mood of the times in immediate post-war France, the government appointed Pierre Lefaucheux, a former Resistance leader who had been held in a Nazi prisoner of war camps for much of the war, to run the company.

With absolutely no knowledge of car production, from day one Lefaucheux showed himself as a man of vision and judgment who was also prepared to listen.

This trait soon became apparent when the 4CV project was revealed to him and he was made aware that Louis Renault had been clandestinely working on a project for the company, which had the Nazis discovered, would more than likely have led to him coming before a firing squad.

Renault’s secret project was a next generation “people’s car”, still known under its working title, the 4CV.

The rear-engine 4CV captured the imagination of Lefaucheux, who gave the green light to put the vehicle into production.

The Renault 4CV was launched at the first post-war Paris motor show held in October 1946 and was an outstanding success.

Driven by an overall shortage of new cars , demand for the 4CV was unprecedented, and with raw materials in short supply, a waiting list grew, which eventually reached as long as two years until raw material supply problems were ironed out.

To show how desperate the French public were to take delivery of their new car, some of them were happy to accept their new car in “Afrika-Corps” green paint left over from the Nazi occupation, originally meant for camouflaging trucks on their way to Africa.

Despite the not so pleasant colour scheme and a number of other technical shortcomings, Renault had sold their half-millionth 4CV by 1954 with production ending finally in mid-1961, with more than a million sold.

Lefaucheux, who was awarded the Légion d'Honneur for his heroics during World War Two, lead Renault to consolidation and success until 1955 when tragically he lost his life in a car accident.

Lefaucheux’s decision to produce the 4CV and sound management skills under difficult circumstances had built the foundations for the “new” Renault that were to bear fruit for many years into the future.

Called in to fill the immense gap left by Lefaucheux tragically premature passing was his long term assistant, Pierre Dreyfus.

Dreyfus, who had combined a very promising career in the French Ministry of Industry and Commerce being financial advisor with Renault was the person chosen by the board to fill the huge abyss left by Pierre Lefaucheux.

Also blessed with considerable energies to match his abilities. Dreyfus threw himself in at the deep end, successfully overseeing the development of Renault’s replacement for the 4CV, the Dauphine, although bot models remained in production simultaneously for three years until 1958, when the 2CV was finally discontinued.

As the Sixties dawned, Dreyfus and Renault found themselves in an uncomfortable position with sales for the Dauphine, their main seller and one of only two models in production. Pierre Dreyfus had the foresight to push forward the development of Renault’s five door hatchback, the Four which rapidly became a top seller.

Dreyfus followed up rapidly on the success of the Four with the launch of the Eight, a compact sports saloon which also proved to be what the European car buying public of the Sixties were looking for.

Realising that strength lay in numbers, during the Sixties, Renault released a total of seven models covering every spectrum of demand in the front wheel drive hatchback sedan sector.

Dreyfus remained at the helm of Renault for two decades, during which time Renault reinforced their position as France's most successful car manufacturer.

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