Laurens van den Acker is Chief Design Officer of Renault, Dacia and Alpine. How is Renault doing, which Renault from the past deserves a modern version and how does AI influence his work as a designer? Moreover, Van den Acker cannot resist taking a swipe at Volkswagen.
For Laurens van den Acker and his six global design teams, designing cars means moving with the times. So don't be nostalgic about the disappearance of the beautiful six-cylinder sound, and accept that the car is increasingly becoming a 'Big Brother', who corrects you for reckless driving and notices whether you are stressed. At the same time, a glorious past is important to distinguish yourself from the Chinese brands that are flooding the European car market. Laurens van den Acker has a bright outlook on the future: "A car has become an innovative product."
We spoke to Laurens van den Acker when he just installed the new electric one Renault Scenic (2024) has revealed. Actually, only the name is the same. Why didn't Renault come up with a new name? "First of all, it is expensive, you just spend 100 million euros on marketing before everyone knows the name. When Luca de Meo became CEO of the Renault Group in 2021, he was clear. The future is electric, but the names remain familiar. That is why both the Megane and the Scenic have not been deleted, but are being given a second life as an EV. Volkswagen did opt for innovation with the ID line, but now you see that they are coming back from that."
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Car designers are often criticized that models are very similar. Does Van den Acker care about that? "No, because people only focus on icons. There were also very dull cars in the sixties and seventies. At Pebble Beach you only see the most beautiful and that gives a distorted picture. There is more variety than ever, but at the same time it is past is extremely important. There will soon be ten Chinese cars that all look like a Tesla Model 3. But buyers want a Renault that looks like a Renault. Luca de Meo immediately came up with the Renault 5. “It's ours, no one can copy us, so we have to make it,” he said. I was able to get started right away and it will go into production next year."
The appearance of the Renault 5 may hark back to a bygone era, but technically cars are more advanced than ever. How does that influence Van den Acker's work? "Of course, as a designer you sometimes think: is everyone waiting for huge navigation screens and screaming colors? Shouldn't it be simpler? But then you step into a Volkswagen ID.3 with such a shitty screen behind the wheel and that's not nice either. People want something just a little bit bigger than their neighbor. A large screen also has advantages, because you can accommodate multiple functions. Other functions have become redundant. Isn't it crazy that we still have a start button?"
Laurens van den Acker is not nostalgic. In fact, new technology saved the car. "For a long time, the car was a dead, mechanical object with which you went from A to B. In the beginning, you could be happy that you arrived. There were more and more cars and therefore more and more accidents. As a result, safety became important and airbags were introduced. and thicker bumpers. Now cars are becoming even more intelligent and they will actively protect you. The car says: your heart rate is high, should I adjust the music? Or: I notice that we are in a traffic jam, should I take the wheel from you? "
"And that's just the beginning. Soon the car will be able to give you tourist tips, or it will offer you cheaper insurance if you use the autonomous driving function. Yes, that's Big Brother-like. But I'm sure everyone will be used to it in five years. Ten years ago we thought the car would disappear. Now Apple and Google would like to work with us. A car has become an innovative product."
Artificial intelligence (AI) increasingly influences Van den Acker's work. Not everything is created with a sketch on the back of a beermat anymore. "For me, the beautiful car is the goal. How we get there doesn't matter. That can be with AI, or with a sketch with a pen. You shouldn't be dogmatic about that. AI makes your work less time-consuming. If If an idea didn't work before, you sent people back to the drawing board and had to wait three weeks. With AI it goes much faster. You can give a very specific assignment: 'design a wheel that is as light as possible and can cost as much' ."
"The new Renault Master was created with virtual reality. We looked at three designs with VR glasses and on that basis the choice was made. This used to be done with clay models, but it takes two months to make them. Ultimately, design remains a human job, because I choose the best from 300 sketches."
Suppose Van den Acker was given complete freedom to let his heart speak. Which model from Renault history would deserve a new life? "The first Renault Espace. I think that's really an icon. Everyone knows the photos of the car with the table in the middle and the turned front seats. But Renault has had difficult years, first we have to make money. That is the C-SUV segment. We have introduced four new models in recent years: the Austral, the Rafale, the Espace and now the Scenic. Let's make sure they are successful first."
This post was last modified on December 3, 2023 6:07 am
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