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The Renault Corporation was founded in 1899 by the Renault brothers – Louis, Marcel and Fernand. Louis was responsible for design and production, and it was his direct drive system that was largely responsible for the company’s early racing victories.
Success in the first city-to-city races, with Marcel and Louis at the wheel, raised Renault’s profile and the company expanded rapidly. Sadly, Marcel was killed in the 1903 Paris to Madrid race, after which Louis never raced again. The company remained heavily involved in motor racing, however, going on to win the first ever Grand Prix motor racing event in 1906 with the Renault AK 90CV.
During World War I, Renault added ammunition and military vehicles to its production lines, which already included taxis, buses, commercial cargo vehicle, as well as the first production sedan car. By the end of the war, Renault was the top-selling private manufacturer in France.
After Louis Renault’s untimely death in 1944, the Renault factories became a public industry. In 1946, the Lefaucheux small car – named after the company’s owner – was released, and quickly became one of Renault’s best-selling models.
Renault continued to enjoy success with the Renault 4 and Renault 8 in the early 1960s and the Renault 5 in 1972. The 1980s were not as fruitful – while the decade yielded the award-winning Renault 9, it also saw the introduction of the ill-fated Renault 14, which was widely criticized for being poorly made.
The Renault 5 was replaced by the Clio in 1990, which lifted the company from its slump and remains Renault’s most successful car and a consistent best-seller in Europe. The Clio, now its third generation, and the Laguna have both sold well in Australia.
In 1999, Renault began a cross-shareholding arrangement with Japanese car company Nissan. As part of this alliance, the two companies together are the fourth largest automaker in the world.