As the Nissan deal shows, Louis Schweitzer is unafraid to make big decisions - or brave ones. It was he who sanctioned the radical-looking Avantime, a vehicle he says Renault could market in the United States with a Nissan or Infiniti badge.
Schweitzer recognizes the Renault name has no brand value in North America and it would be too expensive to establish a network. 'It would make more sense to sell Avantime as either a Nissan or Infiniti. We do not have the necessary range of cars to support an independent network. Of course, this could change in the future,' he said.
Schweitzer declined to predict when the car might go on sale in the United States. Its European launch is planned for this fall. With such radical looks, who is going to buy the Avantime?
'People like me,' he says. 'This is clearly a niche car; the target is between 50 to 70 vehicles a day. The Avantime has the same relation to the Espace as a coupe to a sedan. When you have a family, you have a sedan, but when the children go away, you want to have a car for yourself, for fun, so you buy a coupe.
'Then there are people who have an Espace and enjoy being above the crowd with a good view of the road and big windows, but you have five seats behind you. So the Avantime is for the person who wants a good view of their surroundings but does not need room for lots of children. They are people who have outgrown the Espace but like the feel of it. They perhaps want something a bit more drivable. The buyers are people my age.'
How would the Avantime fit into the Schweitzer lifestyle? 'I think it's a car I could enjoy driving.'
What about other future luxury models from Renault? The company has not done well in the executive segment. A replacement for the upscale Safrane is expected within the next two to three years.
'I don't see us being a major player in the executive car market in the short term,' Schweitzer replied frankly. 'we can't do what the Germans do, and I don't see that changing in the next five to 10 years. First, we have to establish our legitimacy outside France in this area.'