Producing cars since late 1898, the Renault corporation was founded in 1899 as Société Renault Frères by Louis Renault, his brothers Marcel and Fernand, and his friend Thomas Evert. Louis was a bright, aspiring young engineer who had already designed and built several models before teaming up with his brothers, who had honed their business skills working for their father’s textiles firm. While Louis handled design and production, Marcel and Fernand handled company management.
The first Renault car, the Renault Voiturette 1CV was sold to a friend of Louis’ father after giving him a test ride on December 24, 1898. The client was so impressed with the way the tiny car ran and how it climbed the streets that he bought it.
The brothers immediately recognized the publicity that could be obtained for their vehicles by participation in motor racing and Renault made itself known through achieving instant success in the first city-to-city races held in France, resulting in rapid expansion for the company. Both Louis and Marcel Renault raced company vehicles, but Marcel was killed in an accident during the 1903 Paris-Madrid race. Although Louis Renault never raced again, his company remained very involved, including their Renault AK 90CV winning the first ever Grand Prix motor racing event in 1906. Louis was to take full control of the company as the only remaining brother in 1906 when Fernand retired for health reasons.
The Renault reputation for innovation was fostered from very early on. In 1899, Renault launched the first production sedan car as well as patenting the first turbocharger. At the time, cars were very much luxury items, and the price of the smallest Renaults available being 3000 francs reflected this; an amount it would take ten years for the average worker at the time to earn. As well as cars, Renault manufactured taxis, buses and commercial cargo vehicles in the pre-war years, and during World War I (1914 – 1918) branched out into ammunition, military airplanes and vehicles such as the revolutionary Renault FT-17 tank. Renault became the world’s leading manufacturer of airplane engines, and the success of the company’s military designs were such that Renault himself was honored by the Allies for his company’s contributions to their victory. By the end of the war, Renault was the number one private manufacturer in France.