CAR interviews new Renault design chief Laurens van den Acker (2009)

Published: 15 October 2009

CAR: How did you get the top design job at Renault?

LvdA: From what I’ve been told [outgoing design boss] Patrick le Quément was asked to come up with three candidates, two internal and one external, and somehow I bubbled to the top of the external candidates. I think the criteria included international experience, being relatively young and having a good record. The internal candidates were very good as well so, I don’t know, I can’t look into their heads, but maybe they thought after 22 years it might be good to bring someone fresh in.

Do you think Renault wants you to stay awhile too?

I don’t want to stay for 22 years, that sounds like an awful long slog! [Laughs]. Plus it might be hard for me to try to keep up creativity for that long. I think these are long sprints: you just get running and then you see where it ends.

What can you bring to Renault given that many of its recent designs have been so poorly received?

Everybody that loves car design has a couple of Renault concepts as their favourites. I have four in my top 10 – the Argos, Vel Satis, Initiale and the Laguna. The chance to join a team that is so good at concepts intellectually but also good at design is fantastic. Renault as a company is innovative and wants to take risks. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they get it wrong.

Were you assured Renault wants to take risks again as critics would say its designers have had their hands tied of late?

I asked chief operating officer Patrick Pelata what he wanted me to do and he said: ‘Great cars’. It’s as simple as that. Inevitably every great car company has its highs and lows. Look at Citroen 10 years ago and now, or Opel and Ford. The examples are many. I think the potential at Renault has always been fantastic, as I say, it’s a designers’ dream, so I hope they’re going to let me and the team work together to do great stuff. If they don’t, then why hire me? I report, to my surprise, directly to COO Patrick Pelata. I think it’s wonderful to have such a good position but in the end the proof’s in the pudding. At Mazda my position was a lot lower but we had a lot of respect nonetheless so it’s really in the product, not in the function.

When will we see the first examples of your Renault dreams?

The first concepts are probably a year away. We’ve kicked off the concept car strategy and have some ideas about the design strategy but it’s early days, I haven’t sold it yet [laughs again]. I’ve got some homework to do, but it’s going to be exciting.

You always wear trainers with suits at motor shows – and mostly different ones. Are you a collector?

I’ve got 40-ish pairs. I keep them until they start smelling! My favourites are the ones I’m wearing right now – the New York Knicks edition of the Adidas Superstar.

Do you admit to any bad driving habits?

Texting at speed, but I’ve stopped that now.

What annoys you most about others’ bad driving?

When they text! Paris traffic is driving me nuts too.

What was your first car?

A Volvo 360 GLT with a black spoiler. It’s not something I’m very proud of. I rode a bicycle until I was 25. I’m Dutch you know.

By Guy Bird

Contributor, cultural curator, design commentator