Société Renault Frères (Renault Brothers Company) was founded by Loius Renault and his brothers Marcel and Fernand in 1899. Louis was the brilliant engineer, who had already designed several vehicles, while Marcel and Fernand handled the business aspects. They previously worked in their father's textile company.
The very first car was actually produced at the end of 1898 and sold to a friend of Louis' father. The name given to this vehicle was Renault Voiturette 1CV. From 1899 to 1903, the new automobile manufacturer bought engines from De-Dion Bouton. That was going to change in 1903 when Renault started manufacturing engines.
1905 brought the first breakthrough for the company, as Société des Automobiles de Place bought Renault AG1 cars to establish a fleet of taxis. By 1907 many of the taxis used in Paris were made by Renault. These vehicles had an interesting history as they were used during the First World War to transport troops to the front line that was only 70 km from Paris.
Since the beginning, the three Renault brothers had in interest in racing. Louis and Marcel raced company vehicles, but Marcel was killed in an accident during the 1903 Paris-Madrid race, so Louis would never race again. His firm though continued to invest in motor racing. The third brother, Fernand, retired because of medical issues in 1906, died three years later, so Louis was the only one left to run the business.
During the First World War, Renault would expand to build aircraft engines, ammunition, and tanks. After the war, the company focused on expanding its civilian operations in fields such as agricultural machines and continued to produce for the military.
The Great Depression hit the French automotive industry very hard. Citroën filed for bankruptcy and Renault was able to regain its position as the biggest car manufacturer in France surviving thanks to revenue coming from other domains. However, strikes and unrest in 1936-1938 resulted in massive crackdowns and over 2000 employees lost their jobs.
During the Nazi occupation, Renault refused to produce tanks for the German army but delivered trucks instead. After the liberation of France, Louis Renault was accused of collaborating with the enemy and imprisoned. He died in mysterious circumstances in prison on the 24th of October 1944.
On January 1st, 1945, Charles de Gaulle, leader of the new liberated France signed a decree that nationalized the Renault factories.
The 1950s, 60s, and 70s saw a rapid expansion of the car manufacturer on many markets. Renault established a strong presence in South America, started a partnership with American Motors Corporation (AMC) and developed a presence even in communist Easter Europe, through the Dacia brand and factory, in Romania.
By the beginning of the 1980s, Renault ran into trouble. The rapid expansion was taking its toll. The French government stepped in and Georges Besse was installed as chairman. He started a program of restructuring in order to cut losses. Besse was murdered by the communist terrorist group Action Directe in November 1986. His successor continued the program and managed to bring stability to the carmaker.
In 1996 Renault was privatized and in 1999 entered into an alliance with Nissan, which proved to be a very successful move. Renault also regained a presence in Romania after buying the Dacia brand. The French group invested massively in Dacia, making it very profitable and selling over 550.000 units under this brand in 2015.