Cohort Outtake: Gen1 Renault Espace – The European Minivan Pioneer Was Going To Be Imported To the US by AMC

(first posted 3/7/2018)       CC’s Yohai Rodin posted shots of this gen1 Renault Espace at the Cohort, apparently shot in Vienna. Roger Carr did a very exhaustive CC on the Espace here, but he left out the fact that AMC was quite far along in plans to import the Espace to the US, which given the fact that Renault was its main owner at the time, is not surprising. AMC officially announced the plans to bring the Espace to the US in the spring of 1986. So what happened?

The first evidence of these plans was a public announcement, which was covered by the New York Times in a short blurb on October 3, 1984:

DETROIT, Oct. 2— The American Motors Corporation said it would import a mini-van for the 1986 model year from Regie Nationale des Usines Renault of France. A.M.C. said it would bring in 15,000 models a year of the front-wheel-drive Renault Espace.

I was even able to find this image of the Espace on the stands at the 1985 Chicago Auto Show, way back directly under the Renault sign.

I also found this February 1985 Popular Science article that covers the new minivans and said that “AMC will offer Renault’s innovative Espace in the spring of 1986”. Looks like the timetable was slipping already.

Wikipedia says that the purchase of AMC by Chrysler killed the plans to import the Espace. But that didn’t happen until May of 1987. So it appears other factor intervened.

A bit more digging uncovered a Detroit Free Press article from March 15, 1985 that stated that AMC had canceled plans to import the Espace. Perhaps it wasn’t considered quite competitive nought, due to its more compact size than even the swb Chrysler minivans? Or Matra, who built the Espace, couldn’t meet a price target? I suspect the latter, as Matra’s small factory required killing the Murena in order to build enough for Renault.

This is a gen1 Espace, but a post 1988 facelift version, and an extended body version. The original short body was a bit tight for three rows even for European standards, and the slightly elongated body became standard.

I suspect not very many of these gen1 Espaces are still on the roads in Europe, but then gen1 Chrysler minivans are getting scarce too.