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  • He turned Renault into a global player

    Lefaucheux's 4 CV (pictured) was key to France's postwar revival.

    Automotive News Europe

    Pierre Lefaucheux, Renault's first chief executive after World War II, made the company a key player in France's postwar economic recovery.

    His decision to launch the 4 CV small car gave a generation of French working class and middle class a chance to own an automobile despite the postwar austerity.

    The 4 CV became a symbol of the "trente glorieuses," the name the French gave to the country's 30-year economic boom that lasted until the mid-1970s oil crisis.

    Bringing the 4 CV to market was a bold move, especially from a man who had no automotive experience when he took Renault's top job in late 1944.

    An engineer with a doctorate in law, Lefaucheux worked for various companies before joining the resistance movement in German-occupied France in the early 1940s and becoming one of its leaders in the Paris area.

    What he lacked in automotive know-how he made up for in perseverance. To launch the 4 CV, Lefaucheux won over three powerful and very reluctant groups:

    1. The French government, which had just taken over the carmaker and wanted it to build utility vehicles.

    2. Renault executives, who wanted to develop another upper-medium model because it fit the brand's tradition.

    3. Renault dealers, who hated the idea of selling a cheap car.

    Lefaucheux "wanted to build Renault into France's largest car manufacturer," says Jean-Louis Loubet, history professor at Evry University near Paris.

    He succeeded. Between 1945 and 1955, Renault's daily production rose from 300 cars a day to 1,000 cars a day, pushing it past rivals Citroen and Peugeot. Both carmakers were ahead of Renault prior to WWII.

    Renault built 1.1 million 4 CVs throughout the model's lifespan from 1947 to 1961, making it the first French car to top 1 million-units.

    The small car also helped Lefaucheux revive the French carmaker's globalization efforts. Under licenses from Renault, 4 CVs were built in Australia, South Africa, Lebanon, Vietnam and Japan -- they were used as taxis in Saigon and Tokyo.

    It was Lefaucheux who decided to build an assembly plant for the 4 CV in Valladolid, Spain. Renault also opened factories in Acton, England and Haren, Belgium. Of the three, only Valladolid continues to produce Renaults.

    Ambitious plans to export the 4 CV to all of Africa and Southeast Asia did not materialize. Lefaucheux was killed in a car accident in 1955 while driving a Fregate, an upper-medium car Renault had launched in 1951.

    In a symbol of the enduring legacy left by Lefaucheux and the car he spearheaded, Spanish authorities last autumn declared the 4 CV as a part of the country's national heritage.