AMS magazine staff do not routinely attend media launches of new vehicles, as we concentrate on ‘pure’ vehicle-making issues and technologies, and as a B2B title, do not get invited to many new vehicle first drives. So I was pleased to combine visiting Renault’s upgraded plant at Sandouville in northern France with driving the new Laguna from Paris to Normandy.

Renault’s corporate emphasis is on quality – quality of manufacturing, supplied modules and components and quality of after-sales service. In some respects, this shows great confidence in the design and market-suitability of the car – and in the case of the Laguna, this seems totally justified. The car is well-equipped, comfortable, has good dynamic qualities and, the carmaker promises, it will be competitively priced.

But is finished vehicle quality all that is left for Renault to improve? What about all the other mantras of modern automotive manufacturing? Lean? Flexible? Lower labour cost locations? Competing with the new wave of super low-cost vehicles mooted to be emerging from India and China?

I asked Michel Gornet , head of manufacturing and logistics for Renault world-wide about the company’s quality drive and the other challenges it faces. He feels that his teams really have got the streamlined manufacturing operation model in place and that quality management can be instilled in any of the constantly changing locations of Renault manufacturing.

Gornet believes that geographic location, cultural differences, labour pool skill levels and local resources in general can all be ‘tuned’ to produce great vehicles through quality management.

As regards flexibility, he pointed to the smooth and efficient transition of Sandouville from making Vel Satis, Espace IV and Laguna 11 Sport Tourer and hatch models to taking on the new Laguna, using existing lines.

On meeting the challenges of the super low-cost vehicle, he joked that while he could not guarantee to beat the ‘onelakh’ (about $2,500) car that Tata is promising to bring to the market in early 2008, he thought that Renault could at least match it.

Refreshing to hear such confidence in today’s uncertain carmaking world, and if anyone can deliver on these promises, Michel Gornet and the Renault team can.