1989 is not all that long ago (when the average age of a car is about 7 years old) when Renault items were sold here. Among them the Alliance, Encore, Medalion and (Eagle) Premier. Except for the MEdallion and Premier, their product line was awful (though the products marketed here in the 70's were compelling, the 12, 14, 9 and Giordini Sport Coupe). The R5 was at best an answer to the oil crisis. It rode well and had alot of room, but the rust and poor engines were its down fall here and it soldiered on til 1980 again, not all that long ago considering there are quite a few Corolla's, Civic's and 210s floating around here from that era. The Alliance and Encore were alo roomy and comfortable in the French vein, but again with horrible reliability. Added for these models were the puny 1.1 and 1.2 litre engines they were equipped with which made for stupendous as mileage, but horrible driveability.
The Medallion and Premier were the products that would have made Renault in this country. Both were sized and priced competitively and in the case of the Premier, it was the only "Renault" that survived Chrysler's buy out of Renault's interest in AMC Jeep which Renault horribly managed. Their styling, equipment, power and roadability were more suited to US driving habits and environments. As amatter of fact, the chassis of the Premier served as the paltform for Chrylser's forst LH series of cars. The Medallion was a let down only in that it was abandoned here. The Premier was also marketed as the "Dodge Monaco" entry up until 1993. Of the Medallion and Premier, the Medallion still suffered from the indifference in quality that typifies Renault products here. The Premier was an excellent automobile.
Reanult thought they could effectively penetrate the US market by gaining an controlling interest in AMC, who at the time was dead on its feet except for Jeep whose good sales they hoped would give them the influx of cash to fund a Renault effort here until it would be self sustaining. However, Renault mis calculated in two ways. instead of bringing in some of their better designs to the US, they brought the lowest level models hoping to compete in the US economy car market-one dominated by the Japanese and by cars such as the Omni/Sundance/Horizon/K family Chrysler family and GM's X and J cars. Their products fared poorly even with effective pricing due to their poor performance and (later) reliability. Secondly, they let the Jeep line languish by not adding new or upgrading models which at the time of their control were already 20 year old designs. Renault bombed here because they did not have the business accumen to understand and manage the American market and had brought poor products here. I cannot comment on some their models not exported here because I am not familiar with them; however, reviews of thier US imports both in consumer and enthusiast publications are self explanitory. The business issues were well evident when Renault "gave up" by selling Jeep/AMC to Chrysler who had legendary success with Jeep and utilized an excellent(!) French desigined chassis as a basis for their award winning LH series of cars. What Renault should have done, was bring in a variety models from compact to midsize and freshen up some of Jeep's designs at the time.
As far as styling, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. But "this" beholder finds Renault's cars to be very, very ugly and disproportinate. One thing Renault always had going for them was design--and the most tasteful were the Guigario designs including the Giordini(??) and Premier, with all being fresh, contemporary and clean, without the "garishness" of today. Chopped angular roofs, "projector beam" (like those on current the current Altima and UNLIKE those on BMW 3 series for instance) lamps, huge wheels look too extreme for conservative US tastes. It may be fine for Jay Z but not for Joe Schmoe who is looking for a reliable sedan with a bit of style and reliability (such as the Camry, Passat or Impala).
As far as where Nissan would be? who knows. They certainly would not have gone out of business--despite typical French Euorcentric arrogance. Nissan (and Subaru) are successful products in their own right. The Japanese Government and MITI's protectionism reflex wouldn't have allowed it and secondly because of Nissan's size it would be to large for a complete "takeover". If Ford can have an interest in Mazda and GM have a stake in Isuzu (if dwindling now) any other number of auto companies US or European would have taken an interest in them. Renault's "success" in the US was "legendary". And as far as "French business accumen" they may or may not have "saved"
Nissan; Vivendi comes to mind here in the US.