On September 12, Peugeot will unveil the exterior design of its new 3008, the third generation of its kind. And it’s not hard to imagine the comments that will be made about the resemblance – or otherwise… – with the Renault Rafale. “Which of us, which of us, inspires the other” sings the French ‘M’.
And, of course, we’ll get into that debate if there is one. For the time being, we can confirm that the Renault Rafale has not copied the Crossover Coupé concept of the forthcoming Peugeot 3008. Firstly because the calendar proves that it was presented earlier (you’ve already discovered it, while the 3008 is still hiding under hypnotic camouflage), and secondly because this top-of-the-range crossover coupé concept was deflowered at Renault back in 2017, three years before Gilles Vidal left Peugeot for Renault.
Explanations: in 2104, when the 2014 Initiale Paris concept announced the new generation Espace, above, the daisy dear to Laurens van den Acker (then director of Renault design) was in full bloom. Love with DeZir in 2010, exploration with Captur, family with R-Space and work with Frendzy in 2011, relaxation and even fun with Twin’Z in 2013 and then Initiale Paris … To oversee the launch of a new dynamic range, Laurens van den Acker is redistributing the positions of his designers. Axel Breun, then head of concept cars, will make way for Stéphane Janin and take charge of a new unit called ‘special projects’.
Its aim is to create a link between the expertise of Renault Design Industriel and… the company’s decision-makers. It must be a force for internal proposals. The “special projects” created with small teams, like commandos, must propose silhouettes or vehicles that could complete the range.
At the time, Volkswagen and even Mercedes were the envy of the world with their ranges featuring multiple silhouettes. The sporty Mégane and Talisman estate cars, a Talisman Shooting Brake silhouette and a Dacia Duster coupé (above) were produced in 1/1 scale to extremely tight deadlines. But after all the bosses Laurens van den Acker has rubbed shoulders with in just a decade (Patrick Pélata until 2011, Carlos Tavares until 2013, Jérôme Stroll until 2018), Thierry Bolloré, Renault’s number 2 at the time, did not follow up these in-house projects.
Among them is a 1/1 scale model of a Renault Espace coupé called C-Space (above). This project is based on the 5th generation and uses the entire front end, but adopts a dynamic profile with a roof that tilts from the middle of the vehicle and falls onto a planed rear end. The latter features a generous roof spoiler and raised rear lights. The rear doors are special, as is the body side.
In other words, this silhouette implies a lot of new tooling, but that’s not what’s going to torpedo the project. As we have seen, Bolloré is not following up this avant-garde proposal: the proof is that crossovers now swear by this coupé concept. Renault was ahead of many of its rivals with its C-Space and, without knowing it (although…) Gilles Vidal and his teams undoubtedly brought comfort to the designers who, three years before his arrival, were in charge of the genesis of the father of the Rafale: the C-Space.
Renault Espace 6: LIGNES/auto disappointed…
Luca de Meo announced on his arrival that the ‘C’ segment would be strengthened at Renault. Less than four years later, the 100% electric Mégane E-Tech, the 100% electric Scénic, the Austral and its long Espace derivative, not to mention the new Rafale silhouette on this base, prove that the job has been done quickly and well. Even if the internal combustion hatchback has sadly disappeared completely… Quickly and well? As far as the Espace is concerned, we are disappointed that the fundamentals of this concept, which originated in 1984 from Matra but whose interior modularity can be attributed to Renault, have been flouted.
In the Espace of 2023, there’s only a 2/3-1/3 bench seat in row 2. That’s not what the Espace is all about. Even with the silhouette of a crossover rather than an MPV, the 5th generation did much better with its three independent seats in row 2. How do you fit two child safety seats on this bench, while leaving the two rear folding seats accessible? Almost impossible on the new Espace, but very easy on the 5 previous generations.
So, yes: developing the Mégane E-Tech, the Scénic E-Tech, the Austral, the Espace and the Rafale in such a short space of time, well done. But to neglect the basic concept of the Espace is nonsense. The Citroën C5 Aircross is much more family-oriented, with three independent rear seats of equal width.