After Renault's initial denial that its small Logan sedan, introduced to the world in 2004, would be brought to South Africa, the manufacturer is changing tack.
Altering market conditions and a restrictive National Credit Act limiting buyers' access to easy credit have necessitated the model's introduction, together with Sandero hatchback,as a more affordable alternative.
Logan has, according to Renault SA managing director Xavier Gobille and Thierry Brisson, Asia-Africa projects manager responsible for the X90 programme comprising the sedan and its off-shoots including Sandero hatchback, a pick-up, station wagon and panel van, been an unmitigated success.
Though conceptualised as a budget-busting model for Renault and its subsidiary Dacia in a bid to penetrate emerging markets, its popularity has seen its expansion to markets for which it was not initially intended, including France and other countries in developed western Europe.
Logan is now sold in 59 countries on five continents.
After debuting in Romania in 2004, 15 000 units of the Logan were sold within the first three months. Four years on, the local roads are teeming with Logans. When the same car was launched in Iran, 85 000 orders were received before Logan even went on sale…
However, a short stint at the wheel soon explained why. In a massive departure for current Renault products, Logan is unashamedly more downscale, but remains comfortable with instrumentation and fittings common to other Renault products and it, along with its Sandero hatchback sibling, provides pleasant transportation.
But will this not be to the detriment of the existing Renault products, undermining their market positioning in South Africa?
"SA deserves more"
Not so, says Gobiile, who believes there is room in the South African market for affordable and more aspirational models to coexist.
"And South Africa deserves more" states an impassioned Gobille, "than old 'new' cars, unsafe models or second hand when for the same price they could have something new, affordable and safe."
"Renault wants to set a benchmark for affordability, safety and roominess, especially on Sandero," Gobille continues.
"But we (Renault) will have a particular focus on safety at the lower end of the market. Many other models have the price, but without the safety. We'll have both," he says of Logan and Sandero that will, even in its most basic iteration, be sold with ABS and airbags as standard.
Logan, which was recently facelifted, will be introduced to South Africans for the first time at the upcoming Johannesburg International Motor Show.
Although Logan, for Renault, is built at five sites around the world, local supply will be sourced from India where the Mahindra plant resulting from a joint venture between Renault and the Indian manufacturer is the only one to build the sedan for right hand drive markets.
However, local production of Logan cannot be ruled out.
"If enough people want it, there's no reason why we can't build Logan in South Africa," Gobille said.
However, at launch, the Logan will be available as one model only - a "fully equipped 1.6-litre" - that will be at Renault dealerships by November. Gobille is also open to expanding the local Logan range, should the market demand it. Until then, those interested in the sole launch model should be prepared to payclose toR100 000.
But it's no secret that Renault expects the bulk of its budget segment sales to be borne by the Sandero hatchback, which first went on sale in Brazil late last year and had its European debut in June 2008.
The good-looking Sandero will be offered in South Africa with two engines -58-kW1.4- and 76-kW 1.6-litre petrol engines - and five derivatives ranging from a base, low-spec offering to a high-spec model.
Although Sandero, too, will be previewed at the Johannesburg International Motor Show, sales of the five-door hatchback are expected to kick-off from March 2009. Renault hopes prices here too will likely start under R100 000 and extend to around the R130 000-mark.
It was announced in November 2007 that Sandero will be built locally at the Nissan plant in Rosslyn outside Pretoria as part of a Renault-Nissan alliance agreement. It will be built alongside Nissan's NP200 (with which it shares a platform). The initial production run will be for 40 000 units, split evenly between the two products, although this should expand to 68 000 units by end 2009.
Regarding further market expansion, the 1.5-litre turbodiesel, while not included in Renault SA's initial plans, could, according to Gobille, be easily accommodated to suit market requirements.