Member of the Renault group’s management committee, Laurens van den Acker is the person to whom the design directors of the Renault group’s brands (Gilles Vidal for Renault, Anthony Villain for Alpine and Miles Nürnberger for Dacia) answer. It is a position equivalent to that of Gorden Wagener at Daimler, Adrian van Hooydonk at the BMW group or Jean-Pierre Ploué at Stellantis, Europe division.
As he explains, this new role has changed his working habits. “I don’t do day to day anymore. I don’t do it anymore because I don’t want to do it, I have managers for that now. In my new job, I have direct contact with the management committee to which I belong for the group’s design vision. I get specific directions there and I can tell you that Luca de Meo comes to design very often.“
Does he come once a month or more often? “There is no rule. I’ve seen him for example the last two days (interview conducted on September 1). Luca de Meo has a real feeling for the product and for the brand. For the business too!” For Laurens van den Acker, the development programme for the new Mégane E-TECH Electric (100% electric) started at least five years ago. Well before the ‘Renaulution’ which has given a new dynamic impulse with the arrival of the new CEO of the group, Luca de Meo.
Five years ago, it was still very early to decide to push the cursor towards 100% electric. Was a petrol-engined Mégane also in the plans? “No, the project was 100% electric, we had no qualms about it. When he arrived, Luca even pushed the cursors even further in terms of the sportiness, attractiveness and emotion of this project. When the programme was launched, we knew that Renault had to renew itself, and it was all the more important to do so because the car industry is in the midst of a revolution. Even our work has changed. It no longer consists of renewing one model with another, evolving step by step. The small steps are over! We are in the midst of a revolution and this can be seen with the arrival of the 100% electric Mégane. It’s a symbolic choice.“
In terms of design, the new Renault obviously benefits from a brand new platform (the CMF-EV) dedicated to 100% electric. “If we had done a new multi-energy platform, we couldn’t have achieved such a good result.” It’s true that the CMF-EV adopts a completely new, very compact front end, with narrower stretchers because the volume of the EV engine is a third less than that of a combustion engine, and an almost flat floor thanks to the batteries that are only 11cm thick.
The air-conditioning unit moves under the bonnet and frees up a generous amount of space on the dashboard. This architecture is a real boon for the designers! “Yes, but there was a big issue of how to use this space. It was a pity not to put anything in, because the whole thing should not look poor. Too much, on the other hand, would have hidden the advantage of this feeling of space. We had to find an ideal in-between. So we made the most of the space in the best possible way.“
And the centrepiece of the interior is of course the Open R, the screen that combines the driver’s instrumentation (12 inches) and the infotainment system (9 or 12 inches) in a single unit. The Open R is the result of work carried out on the Trezor concept car of 2016, SymbioZ of 2018 and Morphoz of 2020. “That’s right, the Mégane programme’s phase advance was already underway at the time of TreZor.” (below)
The concept car already offered this single screen concept, but it did not yet have the integrated vents on either side of the first screen. “No, but this kind of innovation has to be decided at a very early stage, because it’s not something that can be offered once the programme has started. It’s extremely complex to integrate the aerators into the Open R and I have to say that the engineers tore their hair out a bit, but they played along and followed us! “
Mégane E-TECH Electric is therefore betting on a giant screen… Laurens van den Acker moderates, because for him, the choice is not to have the biggest screen possible. “We wanted to have the information easily accessible on a single surface. When you have screens scattered in front of the driver, on the dashboard and on the console, you get a bit lost. With the Open R, you have all the information without being distracted and the results of the customer tests were very encouraging!“
And Laurens van den Acker points out that this concept can easily be implemented on other models. Compared to its legitimate rival – the Volkswagen ID.3 – the Mégane offers laser-chiselled woodwork on the door panels that extends to the back of the floorboard, and its warm environment answers the German’s coldness. On that note, Laurens quickly cuts us off with a “I can’t talk about that.” On board, it seems that the French score sounds better than the German one.
In the environmental context, but also and above all, in the very restrictive legislative context in Europe, the Mégane E-TECH Electric comes at the right time. This does not prevent us from dreaming of vehicles that are more passionately oriented, such as Alpine, which is due to present a crossover vehicle based on this platform by 2024, perhaps with two electric machines.
Just like Patrick le Quément and many other designers still working at the Renault design centre, Laurens van den Acker is a great fan of the Alpine brand. What was his reaction when Luca de Meo relaunched it with three future models? “I jumped for joy! Frankly, it’s great because to be honest, the situation Luca found when he arrived after some turbulent years was not good. When he arrived, we wanted to show him the potential of Alpine but we didn’t even have to convince him. In his head it was clear. If he had just been interested in cutting costs, it would have been easy to kill Alpine again and stop F1. He gave hope and desire to the whole group and that gave us the breath to create that positive spirit!“
And he concludes “we are at the beginning of the adventure, and this adventure is full of passion and emotion. And if we didn’t know how to design beautiful projects with the design teams we trained and with Gilles le Borgne’s teams in the engineering department, we wouldn’t deserve to be here!“
Interview by Christophe Bonnaud on Wednesday 1st September. Thanks to the Renault communication teams and to Laurens van den Acker’s availability.