Two products from Renault changed the way people perceived it in India. The first was the Duster compact SUV and then the Kwid.

The person who created both was Gerard Detourbet who died in France on Friday. He was 73. Detourbet was also the father of the Logan entry-level sedan, which was part of the then Mahindra-Renault joint venture. It did not do too well in this part of the world even while it notched up big numbers elsewhere.

Close to his heart

Come to think of it, Detourbet was the epicentre of his company’s low-cost car projects which were the need of the hour for emerging markets like India. Yet, if there was one initiative close to his heart, it was doubtless the Kwid.

This was a triumph of frugal engineering which hit the bull’s-eye in an intensely price-sensitive market such as India. When it was first unveiled in Chennai four years ago, Carlos Ghosn who was then the CEO of Renault-Nissan spoke of Detourbet’s role in the project.

“If you are bored with Logan I have a bigger task for you. But you have to do it in India and not in Japan or Paris,” he recalled telling him at that point in time. Detourbet, according to Ghosn, was the “link between the knowledge coming from global markets and the creativity you can develop in India”.

For a company that had not attempted anything as ambitious in terms of the steep cost targets, it was only natural that the project would have its share of sceptics. They were convinced that it was impossible to make a car at that price and dismissed it as a pipe-dream.

Detourbet was only too aware that the Kwid could not become a reality had it been attempted solely in France or Japan (the base of Renault and Nissan) or, for that matter, in India with just Indian engineers. What was required was a fusion between knowledge and experience of different markets, plus the creativity of Indian engineers. Consequently, what Renault strove to do successfully was marrying Indian skills with French and Japanese skills. This was the best way to make people work together while leveraging the experience of global markets “married with local creativity”.

All the hard work paid off and Detourbet was clearly delighted with the response to Kwid. Both he and Ghosn were spot-on in inferring that if there was one good reason for it to do well in India, it was because it had its genes here.

Push for frugal engineering

With 97 per cent localisation, there was no other car from Renault or Nissan with this level of in-house content. It truly pushed the envelope in frugal engineering and ended up being a serious rival, at least in its initial phase of its launch, to Maruti Suzuki in the compact space.

Marc Nassif, who headed Renault’s India operations till 2014, has fond memories of Detourbet who he was familiar with for over three decades. “Even while he may have come across as being slightly rough on the outside to strangers, he was in reality a very sensitive human being,” says Nassif, who is now MD & CEO of Renault’s Morocco operations.

According to him, Detourbet was easily accessible to everyone within the ecosystem. He was also quite at home in Chennai while working on his pet car project, which would eventually catch the fancy of the market. Detourbet may have passed on but his DNA is still intact in the Kwid, Duster and Logan.