Renault started in 1898, with its first car, the Type A, launched on its founder Louis Renault’s birthday. It played a huge part in France’s war effort during the Great War, transporting soldiers to the battle of the Marne. Renault himself received a second Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur medal for his part—he received his ﬁrst in 1906 for contributions to the industry.
During the German occupation in WWII, Renault worked on the utilitarian 4CV in secret, after Louis saw the KdF-Wagen. However, under the Nazi régime, Renault factories did build for the Germans, and its factories were bombed heavily by the Allies. In a dire shape, the company was nationalized after the war, securing its future. The 4CV was launched in 1947.
By 1954, Renault had built one million cars since nationalization and two million since its founding. Other popular models followed: the Dauphine and Floride sports cars, the rear-engined 8 (which formed the basis of the Hino Contessa in Japan), the 16 hatchback (not the first of this body type, but it helped popularize the concept). By 1967, Renaults were being built or assembled on every continent. Its Bulgarian, Romanian and Brazilian operations were busy on adaptations of their own models.
Michel Boue’s 5 hatchback improved on the Issigonis Mini concept and was launched in 1972. With American Motors Corp. needing a small car during the fuel crisis, the 5 was Americanized for that market, and Renault began exerting its influence on the smallest of the Big Four, increasing its stake to 46 per cent in 1980, controlling it. In the early 1980s, the Renault 9 was built as the Renault Alliance in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Although the Alliance and the Encore hatchback were initially successful, the effects of the fuel crises of the 1970s were not felt by the mid-1980s and Renault wanted to sell. Chrysler bought AMC (including its Jeep division) in 1987.
Commercial success came to Renault in the 1990s, thanks to clever design under design director Patrick Le Quément. The Twingo kicked it off, and a series of innovative-looking vehicles such as the Mégane, Vel Satis and Avantime followed.
The company was privatized in 1996. In 1999, it took over Dacia, its Romanian outpost. The same year, Renault formed an alliance with Nissan and has a 44·4 per cent stake in the Japanese automaker. The alliance has proved to be far more successful than its venture with AMC, with Renault-appointed Nissan COO (later CEO, and later CEO of Renault as well) Carlos Ghosn turning Nissan around. In 2008, Renault bought a stake in Russian automaker VAZ, which produces the Lada.