Past Renault models — including LeCar — to be reborn as EVs

Renault will expand its range of electric cars by bringing two of its all-time best-sellers into the 21st century, according to a Reuters report. It will show the heritage-inspired EVs during an event taking place on January 14.

Anonymous sources familiar with the Paris-based company’s plans revealed that the first concept will draw inspiration from the Renault 4, a model built between 1961 and 1994 with only minor changes. It was a hugely innovative car: it offered front-wheel-drive, a flat load floor, a folding second-row bench, and a rear hatch. We don’t know what the modern interpretation of it will look like yet, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up crossover-ized.

Renault’s second retro-styled EV will lean on the 5 for inspiration, but which variant stylists chose to channel is unclear. Launched in 1972, the first-generation 5 was infamously sold as LeCar (pictured) in the United States. Its replacement, the Marcello Gandini-designed Super Cinq (super-five), was built from 1984 to 1996 and never sold here. While many design details set the two models apart, they shared a silhouette and a handful of defining styling cues, like square headlights and vertical taillights. Designers could feasibly create a city-friendly hatchback inspired by both models.

At the other end of the spectrum, Renault’s sporty Alpine brand will reportedly preview three electric models during the upcoming event. Alpine has never sold an EV, and information about the concepts isn’t available. Unverified rumors suggest that the brand, which aims to be like Porsche, will march into the SUV segment.

What remains to be seen is how close these concepts will be to production models — assuming they will preview production models, which isn’t certain yet. Similarly, we don’t know much about the drivetrain that will power them. Renault was an early pioneer in the modern electric car segment — it released the Zoe in 2012, so it already has motors and batteries on its shelf. Alternatively, it could develop these parts (and a platform) from scratch.

Although the 4’s spot in Renault’s current line-up is more or less occupied by the Kangoo, the hatchback was nearly resurrected in the early 2010s as a retro-flavored replacement for the Modus. Executives told Autoblog that they axed the project — which was never publicly announced or even shown — in favor of the first-generation Captur crossover, which entered production in 2013 and has been one of Renault’s best-selling models since. Nothing suggests the upcoming concept will be related to the car that was shelved a decade ago, however.

As for the 5, its design DNA was injected into the Twin’Run concept introduced at the 2013 edition of the Monaco Grand Prix. Exceptionally well received, the design study was later watered down into the third generation of the Twingo city car, which rides on an extended version of the Smart ForTwo’s rear-engined platform.

Déjà vu

Renault never sold electric versions of the 4 or the 5 to the public, but LeCar briefly swapped gasoline for electricity in America. In 1979, U.S. Electricar Corporation turned the LeCar into an electric hatchback named Lectric Leopard 953 that was powered by a 12-horsepower motor zapped into motion by a pair of lead-acid battery packs. It had about 70 miles of driving range and a 50-mph top speed. Worse yet, it also weighed about 2,500 pounds (versus 1,850 for a standard LeCar) and cost $7,000, which represents roughly $25,000 in 2021, compared to $3,345 (approximately $10,500 in 2021). It was relatively innovative, but it was destined to fail.

U.S. Electricar Corporation ordered 400 engine-less examples of the LeCar from Renault. Sales figures are lost to history — assuming they were recorded at all — but we doubt the donor cars were all converted into 953s.