With his three-year training at Arts et Métier Paris Tech from 1994 to 1997, Antony Villain arrived at Renault and has never left the group since. He moved into prospective design and innovation with a position as director of this department for three years (2005-2008) before taking responsibility for the design of the Clio and Captur model range and managing its development from 2009 to 2011. A year later, he switched to Alpine to take charge of the design of this brand which was not yet a brand. So, for a little over ten years now, he has been at the heart of the rebirth of the A110 and then of the entire brand! He answered the questions of LIGNES/auto.
What has happened since the Renaulution with the revelation of the “dream garage”, in terms of hiring and products?
Antony Villain: “A lot has happened! And I am in a good position to say so, because I started at Alpine in 2012/2103 to follow the project of the current A110 which was the first phase of the renewal. It’s a great success, but it’s true that we had a period where there was no clear strategy for the brand before Luca de Meo arrived.”
So, before the Renaulution, there was a period of doubt?
A.V. : “The A110 was working very well, and even if we were doing a lot of projects internally to define the post-A110, none of them really passed the stage of studies… But the chance to recreate the brand was already unexpected. The arrival of Luca de Meo was an important moment because finally there were only two solutions: either the Renault group stopped everything given its situation at the time, or Luca de Meo bet on Alpine with the enthusiasm that we know. And that’s what happened.”
That evening, you go home and open the champagne?
A.V.: “We had a feeling because we knew that Luca de Meo is a car lover. From the very first contacts, he spoke about Alpine. But it was still a great surprise to discover that he was going to take F1 and all the sports labels and combine them into one brand. When we developed the current A110, there were already a lot of engineers from Renault Sport, but Luca’s idea was to bring the two sporting divisions (Renault Sport and Alpine) together into one to design a real unit which will become a flagship. He told us clearly that from now on, “we’re going to take you seriously”.
What was the future of Alpine at that precise moment?
A.V.: “Luca de Meo had set a framework, but everything remained to be done: what range, what work to prioritise, what team, what attributes for the brand? Everything had to be built.”
Was the idea of a 100% electric range planned from the start?
A.V.: “Yes, it was the regulations that led us down this path. However, from the start we wanted to invent the electric sports car of the future, rather than to be subjected to it. For us, this is a major challenge: who better than Alpine to create this sportiness of the future?”
In terms of staff, everything has been increased since this Renaulution plan…
A.V. : “I was already in charge of the studio dedicated to Alpine before 2021. The number of staff varied according to the workload in the group. But the designers and modelers were already dedicated to the Alpine brand. We started with 12 people, and when the dream garage projects came along, we obviously decided that we had to grow very quickly. So we went from 12 people until January 2022, to 45 today, half of whom are creatives.”
Are these newcomers ex-Renault designers or do they come from outside?
A.V.: “I went looking for designers from Ferrari, Lamborghini and Jaguar and I found talents who, when I explained to them what the Alpine adventure was, were very surprised and enthusiastic! An adventure like this is rare and they quickly understood that it had to be experienced.”
Let’s talk about this upcoming range. As a designer, were you involved in the drafting process?
A.V.: “Yes, completely. The design was of course brought into the loop. The dream garage is one of the ideas that we developed very early on. Afterwards, we had to know how we were going to develop the products and we proposed quite a few things to Luca de Meo.”
Luca de Meo is also known to be a product man…
A.V.: “Luca de Meo is always one or two steps ahead, so we said to ourselves that we shouldn’t chase after him, but rather feed him with projects by offering him our vision. It was very stimulating.”
In January 2021, when you present the dream garage, do the three models already exist as models?
A.V.: “Not completely. The first ones were certainly launched but the others were more in the form of ideas. We already had the first digital models, but it was really at the very beginning of the studies.”
Is the Alpine studio like a commando that only works with digital models?
A.V.: “No, we have digital and physical models. There is always a clay model at the end, and today we have processes that use all types of tools. We can make a ¼ scale model in clay and in parallel, we use all the new digital 3D modelling tools that are used by designers, and not only by digital designers. We also work a lot with VR (Virtual Reality) headsets and we also have milling machines in the workshop. So we can send our scanned file to the milling machine in the evening and the next morning we have the model. We have an agile design and development process at Alpine, which knows how to juggle all the physical and digital elements.”
Do you work like your big sister Renault with at least a 1/1 scale model?
A.V.: “Yes, absolutely, a clay model. Our advantage is that our small dedicated team can rely on the strength of the Renault Group. We have top level workshops, milling machines too… the whole back office is taken care of by the Group. We couldn’t benefit from all these resources if we were independent.”
Can you tell us about the link between the Renault 5 EV and the A290_ß. Did you collaborate on the design of the R5 for example?
A.V. : “When we unveiled our dream garage, the style of the Renault 5 Prototype was already well advanced, with François Leboine who was in charge of concept car design and with whom I shared the same office. Very quickly, the engineers from Ulis came to put the right ingredients into the new CMF B-EV platform of the R5 so that we could make the Alpine. So it was the technique that preceded the Alpine style. At the same time, we waited for the Renault’s style to mature before developing our product.”
So we can’t say that this Alpine is a simple derivative of the next Renault 5?
A.V.: “We prefer to talk about the analogy with the A106 of 1955 (the first production Alpine designed on the basis of the Renault 4CV), because we are going back to our origins. Alpine has always used Renault parts. We have taken this future A290 into our world, both technically and stylistically. What is interesting with this urban sports car is that we are going to go into the territory of new competitors, such as MINI or Alfa. And then, with future products, we will go very high, we are broadening the spectrum of Alpine customers.”
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Beyond the next GT Crossover and the A110 replacement, which you won’t say anything about today, can we confirm the arrival of two large top of the range crossovers in 2027 and 2028?
A.V. : ” The models exist because we are working on all the projects at the same time, at different stages of evolution of course. Some have already been finalised (we’re thinking of the Croosver GT produced by Dieppe in 2025 NDA) and the others have already started.”
What is surprising, given the size of these two crossovers of 2027 and 2028, is that they are aimed at Americans?
A.V.: “Exactly. You have to understand the strategy with the three new Alpines from the dream garage, which are more focused on Europe. Then the second phase is to go after the rest of the world. In the United States, our audience is good, we have even been asked to export the A110! There is a strong sports car culture there. Alpine may be an exotic brand for them, but it speaks to them. When we enter the crossover market, we have to respect the codes, particularly in terms of dimensioning, and at the same time bring in all our know-how in terms of ground handling, performance and driving pleasure with a much more French design.”
Will these new products also be sold in Europe?
A.V.: “For some of them, yes of course, even if it won’t necessarily be our core market. These projects allow us to do really incredible things, we would never have imagined that!”
And you are going to do the opposite by offering your two big crossovers of 2027 and 2028 to Renault?
A.V.: “No, that has nothing to do with it! We are emancipating ourselves and creating a brand and therefore a complete range. This is why, in terms of volume, notably the number of people, we are moving to a different level of power with a lot of ambition. Creating a new team is something completely new. There is Laurent Rossi who is pushing the whole brand, and he is also a force of proposal. It was with him that we proposed the Alpenglow concept to Luca de Meo to tell him that we needed an object that would project us into the future. He said “I love it, let’s do it”. These are really incredible moments to experience. I’ve been waiting ten years for this and I still pinch myself in the morning to believe it!
When will the A290 be launched?
A.V.: “In 2024. But we’ll obviously leave the first one to the Renault with the ‘5’…”