Renault steels chief designer Vidal from PSA
Luca de Meo is officially the new CEO of Renault since the 1st of July. He has started his new job with a bang. After taking the chief designer of Seat, Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos, with him (announced last Monday), he has now lured PSA star designer Gilles Vidal into stepping over to Renault.
Gilles Vidal (48) has started his design career at Citroën in 1996 and later became head responsible for Citroën design. When Jean-Pierre Ploué became responsible for the entire design of PSA, Vidal was chosen by Ploué to become the new Peugeot Design Director.
This has been a masterful decision because, under Vidal’s reign, Peugeot has put itself on the designer map again. The sleek and at the same time, sporty aggressive look of recent Peugeots started with the current 3008 and came to its pinnacle with the 508 and the 208.
Vidal will begin his work at Renault in November under the supervision of Laurens van den Acker, the actual industrial design director, and member of the Executive Committee of the Group.
“Gilles has been an inspirational source for many designers,” commented Laurens van den Acker on Wednesday. His experience is appreciated by all. His passion for design and his feeling for innovation will be major assets for Groupe Renault.”
At PSA, Vidal will be replaced by Matthias Hossan (40), until now responsible for advanced design at Peugeot (since 2013) and (among others) father of the beautiful E-Concept, a reinterpretation of the timeless design of the Peugeot 504 Coupé.
Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos (52) was a close collaborator of Luca de Meo during his years at the helm of Seat. In this period, the design of the Spanish VW-daughter was greatly improved and unified, contributing to the recent success of the brand.
For the Spanish designer, it won’t be the first time he joins the Renault ranks. In 1995, he started working at the design department of Seat in Martorell, where his older brother Carlos already works since 1985. In 1997, he moved to VW’s Design Center Europe in Sitges.
In 2001, he started working at Renault, where he designs the Laguna Coupé and becomes head of advanced design. From 2009 until 2011, he works for Renault Samsung Motors in South-Korea. Perhaps not the sexiest of places for an ambitious designer because in 2011, he accepts an offer from (then) VW design boss Walter de Silva to succeed to Luc Donckerwolke as head of Seat design.
Mesonero-Romanos will (re)start at Renault in October, and he will also resort under the direction of Laurens van den Acker.
Renault and PSA seem to be entangled in a sort of strangling waltz competing with each other, not only in the car market. In 2013, when Renault COO, Carlos Tavares, left the company to become CEO of PSA. In his wake came a lot of his close collaborators to help him to redress an (at that time) ailing group.
Now it seems that the opposite movement has been started. At the beginning of this year, Renault signed Gilles Le Borgne, head of PSA’s R&D department, to come and lead the same department at Renault.
Now, Gilles Vidal is the second significant star that changes employment. Renault is in bad weather for the moment, financially, but it also had a lot of models that didn’t work as was expected (the most recent Espace, Talisman, Koleos). Even the compact SUV Kadjar (derived from the bestseller Nissan Qashqai) is only selling half as much as Peugeot’s 3008.
What about Laurens?
The venue of two relatively big shots in car design to Renault at the same time puts question marks around the position of Renault’s design guru Laurens van den Acker. When he came to Renault (from Mazda) in May 2009, he started the massive task of giving the Renault brand a new, innovative, and recognizable face.
Last ten years, van den Acker succeeded in this; last year he started his second round of designing the Renault portfolio, where he chose consolidation over innovation. The recent Clio is an excellent example of this movement.
Not so long ago, he confided to us that perhaps his bosses at Renault wouldn’t allow him “to go wild again” on the third round of redesigning the brand. Hence, the venue of both top-designers as first, remarkable feats of the new, flamboyant CEO de Meo.
The fact that van den Acker is, of course, seen as a man of the Carlos Ghosn era, doesn’t play in his favor. Another possibility is that he is growing in its role as an executive director overseeing the long-term strategy and is leaving the actual design to the newly recruited.
Perhaps, in that perspective, he’s the right man in the right place to steer two of the more ambitious designers in the industry in the same company without heading for a confrontation. If not, we will soon see him leaving for other horizons.