November 15, 2005
Quite often, we diss brands here at the Beyond Branding Blog for not being socially responsible. But every now and then, there is a brand that does reasonably well at the old stuff.
Right now, it's Renault. It has managed to share platforms with its Nissan subsidiary, making that loss-making Japanese company into a global winner. It took home the Formula One manufacturers’ championship this year. And today, Clio III won the European Car of the Year award.
The brand has recovered from being a sad part of the French government in the early 1980s, when it was churning out cars like the 9, and trying to flog them in America as the Renault Alliance. Mediocrity was the name of the game, thinking that making French domestic appliances and calling them cars was a route to success.
But Renault has succeeded because it has read customers well—seeing that it was a greater risk to take no risks, in the words of design boss Patrick Le Quément. I never appreciated that till recently, now that Renault has the most distinctive automobile range in the world. It is easier to be distinct and take an earlier risk in development than to be same again, and take a later risk on the sales’ charts.
It took this marketing-led, rather than ﬁnance-led, model into Nissan, which was essentially bankrupt when the French moved in in 1999. People though the French had gone nuts. But through a bit of risk-taking, and proper follow-up by their own man, Carlos Ghosn, installed at Nissan, the $5 billion investment worked. There is a blurring between roles at Nissan, and at Renault, where levels aren’t as divisive as they once were. And that works horizontally, too, between France and Japan.
Renault does have a corporate social responsibility programme but here is where it just reads like lip-service, on the ofﬁcial site: ‘Renault has acquired the means to become a key world player in sustainable development, expressing ambition that ﬁts closely with the group's strategy of proﬁtable growth.’
The programme reads like any European manufacturer’s, where Renault promises harmonious relationships with host communities, provides mobility for its clients, and pays attention to its societal impact.
I don’t doubt its intentions, but I would love for Renault to use its latest successes and push this side of the business. To take no risk here is a grave risk—because one automaker has to be ﬁrst in making the move and tell customers, ‘We care about the same things you do.’
The company has some excellent programmes buried within its CSR site, such as ‘job placement for disadvantaged young people’ in Flins, France, and a partnership to start a technical college in Brazil. ‘In Turkey, Renault is a participant in a programme designed to teach children lifesaving measures for earthquakes,’ it reads.
These seem more genuine than complying with EU laws on recycling a car at the end of its life—because they play a huge part in the communities in which Renault is involved. They also impact on the way the company makes cars. And it makes me feel better driving a Renault myself. permalink
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