Renault revives hot Alpine name
RENAULT ALPINE IN ACTION: Was this from the 1976 Monte Carlo Rally?
Author: Laurence Frost
PARIS, France - Renault, hoping to harness its Formula 1 prowess to boost the flagging core brand, has unveiled plans to develop a high-performance car in a deal with British specialist sports car maker Caterham.
The French automaker, which has flopped with recent attempts at larger or sportier models like the Laguna, Vel Satis limousine and Wind roadster, also plans to revive its defunct Alpine brand for the new model, to go on sale by 2016.
The road-legal Alpine and an equivalent Caterham model will put racecar engineering within reach of more customers than rival F1-derived road offerings, Caterham chairman Tony Fernandes and Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn said at a joint news conference.
Fernandes said: "If you look at Formula 1, there's only Ferrari and McLaren, which are extremely expensive," Fernandes said. "We'll produce a car that many more people can afford with F1 technology."
Renault sold its F1 team in 2009/10 but continues to supply engines to Caterham, as well as the Williams, Lotus and Red Bull teams.
The companies declined to give details of pricing, sales targets or their financial transaction - which will see Caterham acquire a 50% stake in Automobiles Alpine Renault, a subsidiary of the French automaker.
Ghosn said: "We're talking about several thousand vehicles a year."
According to a French media report, the cars will be priced from the equivalent of R390 600, a far cry from McLaren's multi-million rand MP4-12C supercar or the entry-level Ferrari California. Existing Caterham models cost from R202 000 to R627 750.
Alpine, a legendary marque among older world racing fans, was founded in the 1950's by French garage mechanic Jean Redele, whose souped-up Renault 4CV cars scored a number of racing victories through the next two decades with the addition of the more powerful A110 and Renault acquired the brand before eventually killing it off in 1994 as sales dwindled.
SECOND TIME LUCKY?
Manfred Abraham, head of strategy at branding consultancy Interbrand, said: "Sometimes people hold really warm feelings towards brands even if they haven't been around for a while."
While potential sales volumes are often limited, performance offerings can have a "halo effect" on mainstream models, Abraham said, citing a shift up-market by VW's Audi helped by its TT and R8.
The last decade has seen several mass carmakers dust off discontinued names to roll out retro-styled compact cars commanding higher prices.
Fiat introduced a modern version of its iconic 500 in 2007, six years after BMW revived Mini. PSA Peugeot Citroen followed suit in 2009 with a range of upscale cars named after the Citroen DS, first sold in 1955.
Ghosn's No.2 executive, Carlos Tavares, had indicated earlier in 2012 that Renault was planning an Alpine sports car along with pricier mainstream vehicles under a new sub-brand, Initial Paris.
The Alpine and Caterham models will be built at Renault's plant in Dieppe, northwestern France, which employs around 300 workers assembling zippier Renault Sport versions of the company's production models.