Louis Renault (industrialist)

Louis Renault (industrialist)

Louis Renault (February 15, 1877, Paris, France – October 24, 1944) was a French industrialist and one of the foremost pioneers of the automobile industry.

The fourth of five children born into a Paris bourgeoisie family, Renault was fascinated by engineering and mechanics from a very early age, and spent many hours in the Serpollet steam car workshop or tinkering with old Panhard engines in the tool shed of the family's second home in Billancourt. He built his first car in 1898, a modified De Dion-Bouton cycle which featured a revolutionary universally jointed driveshaft and a three speed gearbox with reverse, with the third gear in direct drive (which he patented a year later). Renault called his car the "Voiturette". On December 24, 1898, he won a bet with his friends that his invention was capable of driving up the slope of Lepic street in Montmartre. As well as winning the bet, Renault received 13 definite orders for the vehicle. Seeing the commercial potential in his ingenuity, he teamed up with his two older brothers Marcel (1872-1903) and Fernand (1865-1909) who had business experience from working in their father's textiles firm. They formed the Renault Frères company in February 25, 1899. Initially, business and administration was handled entirely by the elder brothers, with Louis dedicating himself to design and manufacturing. However, in 1908 he took overall control of the company after Fernand retired for health reasons (Marcel having being killed earlier in the Paris-Madrid [motor racing of 1903).

Renault remained in complete control of his company until 1942, dealing with its rapid expansion while designing several new inventions, most of which are still in use today, such as hydraulic shock absorbers, the modern drum brake, compressed gas ignition, the turbocharger,Fact|date=October 2007 and the taximeter.Fact|date=October 2007

He was decorated with the Legion of Honor after the First World War for the success of his military designs, most famously including the revolutionary Renault FT-17 tank.

During the interwar period, his right-wing opinions are well known, while his employees at Boulogne Billancourt are at the "proletarian avant-garde", leading to various cases of labour unrest. He pleaded a necessary union between European nations.

In 1939, he again is one of the most important suppliers for French army, but France capitulates in 1940. He refused to produce tanks for the German army, leading to the requisition of his company. During the Nazi occupation of France during the Second World War, the Renault company (like all French companies) was put under the total control of the Germans, and people from Daimler-Benz are put at keys positions. The compagny production was insignificant, however, less than 1/3 of what it had been in the sole month of May 1939. Besides, after an allied air-raid to destroy his plant in march 1942, Louis suffers from Aphasia, cannot speak nor write, and stops direction.

When France was liberated in 1944, he was arrested under charges of industrial collaboration with Nazi Germany ; he dies a month later, claiming to have been mistreated in Fresnes Prison ; a Traumatic brain injury and a severe Uremia are observed. No inquiry is made.

Three month later, Renault was nationalized, on the official and very thin case of collaboration. This was most remarkable, for this condamnation was without judgement, and applied to an already dead person, in violation to rule of law and all French juridical principles. The actual director of the plant during the war succeeded in 1949 to obtain a judgement stating that he and the plant actually did not collaborated, and in 1967 Louis' only heir, his son Jean-Louis Renault, obtained some indemnisation. Louis, however, never was officially rehabilited. Actually, Louis paid his old opposition to left wing political forces, most importantly communists and labour unionists, and the fact that they wanted to make of Renault an industrial laboratory of their ideas.

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