Gilles Vidal, from Peugeot to Renault: we tell you everything!

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Luca de Meo (below) has been at the head of the Renault brand since 1 July, after the manufacturer announced a drastic cost-cutting plan with, on a national level alone, 4600 job cuts.

Instead of licking the wounds, Luca de Meo immediately thought of a bright future for the brand! And to do so, he intends to shake up the teams in all departments, including the design department, a little, a lot, passionately. With the desire to weaken the Volkswagen and Peugeot competition?

On July 27th, we learned that Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos (above), until then design director of the Seat brand within the Volkswagen group, was arriving alongside Laurens van den Acker, the current head of Renault design. To take care of Dacia? On the same day, we learned that Gilles Vidal (below) had left his position as Peugeot’s style director to … Renault !

Gilles Vidal finally passes to the enemy. Or, to put it more nicely, to Guyancourt’s neighbours. A giant leap for his career, but a small step for his daily travels: less than 15 km separate (below) the Peugeot PSA design centre in Vélizy (2) from that of Renault in Guyancourt (1).

One can imagine that this was not the primary criterion in the choice of this career change. After 10 years at the head of Peugeot design (2010-2020) and after having pushed the doors of this group in 1996 at Citroën – thus before Ploué’s arrival at PSA -, Gilles Vidal is now choosing his second employer only since his debut. Can this stability be explained by the desire to stay in France?

However, at the same time, a position as design director for the Hyundai brand became available, a position that Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos would have initially targeted, before following Luca de Meo at Renault. A position that would have allowed an internationalisation of Gilles Vidal’s career, but is that what he wanted? Obviously not.

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In addition, the Renault brand, however international it may be, is not present in the USA, unlike Peugeot, which is aiming for a return there, as we can see below with this photo from the Jalopnik site (https://jalopnik.com) of a 508 in the United States.

Gilles Vidal will therefore once again be confronted with managing a team dedicated to a brand, a French one at that, and his daily life will not change much, and should therefore not require him to go through a long adaptation phase, since the job will be the same, with obviously different people and brand DNA.

If we take a closer look at Renault’s design strategy, the renewal of the Clio – the second cycle of design “made in Laurens van den Acker” – is an evolution “à la Volkswagen”, in small touches. A strategy that until then had been the opposite of Peugeot’s design strategy and which is not ridiculous since in France, the Clio V (above) does better than the 208 of Gilles Vidal’s team. Well, it’s not a hair-raising prospect for the former boss of Peugeot design, since Peugeot has registered a total of 38,884 Clio cars sold… 38.863 Peugeot 208! This proves that the French battle between the two enemy manufacturers will be even tougher from now on!

But the battle will still be unbalanced as Gilles arrives at Renault with Peugeot’s product plan in the lead. Whereas at the last news, Laurens van den Acker is not supposed to know Peugeot’s plans! And even if Gilles Vidal will necessarily reject any idea of copying and pasting in terms of style, it is not certain that he wants to abandon innovative concepts already thought up at Peugeot (above).

What will he find at Renault? Great ambitions in terms of design. Laurens van den Acker’s team (above) has done the job, and rather well, since at the start of the second renewal of the range, the flagship models have resisted and even conquered territories. Alas, the best being the enemy of the good, many silhouettes suffered from the disaffection of customers, like the Scenic minivan and the top-of-the-range (Espace and Talisman).

Gilles Vidal will arrive in the middle of the ford, while discussions for the renewal of the Twingo, Scénic and top-of-the-range models are underway. He will be able to count on the strike force of his teams, who have put forward a number of very interesting silhouettes (Dacia Duster Coupé, Renault Espace coupé above, etc.) which, unfortunately, have not passed the barrier of industrialisation. Gilles will have to put forward his determination to push the models that deserve it. His luck undoubtedly lies in two people who are passionate about the automotive product: Laurens van den Acker and Luca de Meo, the boss!

PHOTO TAKUJI SHIMMURA

Technically, Renault will provide it with a (nearly) brand new design center, since it will be completely redesigned in 2017 to become the R*Generation (above). On the platform side, if it could rely on two modern underpinnings at PSA (e-CMP and eVMP), it will double the opportunities with the four platforms (instead of 13 currently!) by 2026 for the Alliance. Above all, Gilles Vidal will be reunited with Gilles Le Borgne, former head of Research and Development at PSA, who was appointed Director of Engineering for the Renault group last January. That’s quite something!

What’s he got in the pipes at Renault? A compact MPV with SUV attributes (Morphoz, above) derived from the recent 100% electric Nissan Ariya. There is also an entire range dedicated to 100% electric vehicles, which will be developed as a priority. Not to mention a range designed for the Indian market, which is not lacking in interest. Of course, stars like the Kadjar are already finalized but, as we’ve seen, there are still decisions to be made for Twingo, Scénic, Espace and Talisman.

Who’s he gonna find at his side? Some nice people! Laurens van den Acker has nothing to prove at Renault because he has succeeded in the challenge he was given in 2010: to give back a strong identity and a seductive style to the Renault cars. It’s time for him to get even bigger.

It will undoubtedly be more complicated with the close guard of Laurens, and in particular Anthony Lo, above, the excellent right-hand man of Van den Acker for the outside style, of which one can imagine the perplexity?

On the concept car side, Gilles Vidal will find a solid team, led by François Leboine above, as solid as Matthias Hossann was in the same position at Peugeot. Matthias, now the new Peugeot style director.

Gilles Vidal on the left, Matthias Hossann on the right.

There are still several questions that remain unanswered because they touch on the intimate: why did Vidal leave Peugeot for (practically) the same job and position with the French competitor? Was it a desire for a change of scenery? The money? The challenge? The desire to change while staying in France? And then there is the friendship with the big boss, Jean-Pierre Ploué: if Gilles Vidal was hoping to replace his friend at the head of PSA Group Design, he would have had to wait a few more years. Too many years! Jean-Pierre Ploué remains silent on this departure, because his challenge to him is to magnify the future of the PSA group by a strong and distinctive design for each brand, not to whine about a departure, however brutal, strong and not without consequences.

I think, however, that Alexandre Malval’s departure from Citroën’s design department in 2018 came as less of a surprise, because Alexandre couldn’t let this international dimension go by by signing with Mercedes. Despite these departures, Ploué’s good management has made it possible to place a man of great skill at the head of Peugeot design, Matthias Hossann. Without delay. And with immediate efficiency. Peugeot must take advantage of the latency that Vidal will experience to discover its new world and the workings of a new company, to accelerate again and again. Some duels in prospect between the two (former?) friends Vidal-Ploué!

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