Renault's sports car from the joint venture is likely to be a coupé, Caterham's a roadster
Renault will put its Alpine factory in Dieppe and its 300-strong workforce into the 50:50 joint venture and Caterham will inject expertise and investment as the two companies join forces to establish a new range of lightweight two-seaters. A joint engineering department has been created to work on the co-developed projects, and it will be led by Bernard Ollivier, who has been with Renault since 1977 and most recently operated in a vice presidential capacity for the firm.
Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn said: "This innovative partnership with Caterham embodies a longstanding ambition: the creation of a sports car with the Alpine DNA. It carries both opportunities for the Dieppe plant and the development of its historic expertise."
The tie-up will cement the link forged between Caterham and Renault in F1, the French firm's engines powering the British chassis, and marks a much deeper co-operation than Renault agreed with Williams when the two were notching up world championships in the 1990s.
The official statement announcing the deal says it will allow the two firms to "combine their skills to build models in large and small volume, in order to widen their positioning on the sports vehicle market".
The first output from Alpine Caterham - which is officially called Societe des Automobiles Alpine Caterham (SAAC) - will be an alloy-chassis two-seater inspired by the lightweight 1960s Alpine 110, better known as a successful race and rally car that competed in the Monte Carlo and Le Mans 24 Hours.
Renault product boss Carlos Tavares has previously invoked the spirit of the 110 as the inspiration of the new sports car. He has also guided a price of €40-50k, the equivalent of about £35k
That puts it in a very different category to the supercar-inspired Alpine concept shown recently and built around a Mégane Cup racer steel spaceframe and 400bhp engine.
Alpine and Caterham will have distinct versions of the lightweight sports car each with their own body panels, chassis tuning and character, but based on the same rear-drive underpinning.
Renault may concentrate on a coupé bodystyle, like the A110, Caterham an open-top design.
Bernard Ollivier, CEO of SAAC, said: “I’m very proud of the trust placed in me by both shareholders. The road map for each car is clear and simple: respect the DNA of both Alpine and Caterham Cars. With the passion and expertise of the staff dedicated to this project, we are sure of meeting this aim”.
It is not year clear if the cars will be mid- or rear-engined. Renault product boss Carlos Tavares has previously only referred to a 'rear-drive' configuration.
Mystery similarly surrounds the engines, although Tavares has been quoted on a power output around 250bhp.
The Alpine Caterham will possibly use variants of Renaultsport engines, most likely the new direct-injection turbocharged 1.6 unit, tuned to 200bhp in the Clio RS. Although another possibility is the 265bhp two-litre turbocharged Mégane Cup unit.
Many of the industrial details of the Alpine Caterham still remain secret, such as production levels.
However, engineering work has been going on in the background.
Caterham, for example, has recruited a core of engineers from Lotus, including Elise guru Tony Shute. Long-time F1 designer Mike Gascoyne has also joined Caterham's road car division.
That technology is rivet/bonded, although Renault's engineering back catalogue does include expertise for a welded alloy spaceframe, as used on the minimalist Renaultsport Spider of the mid-90s.
Other industrial hurdles have still to be jumped, though. Workers at the Alpine factory have not yet been transferred to the new joint venture, which unions might object to.
The Dieppe factory however, is used to flexible working. It made the Renaultsport Clio and will make the new one, too. Although both the RS Twingo and RS Mégane are made on the mainstream production lines as cooking models. In the past it also has helped make the composite-bodied Espace MPV and the soft-top Mégane.
On the new tie-up, Caterham owener Tony Fernandes said: "I have not felt as excited about a new venture since I launched AirAsia in 2001 and I want to thank Carlos Ghosn and Carlos Tavares and everyone in our new Renault family for having the belief in Caterham Group to create this partnership.
"Many people doubted us 11 years ago when we launched our airline and I am sure that there will be doubters again this time, but we will not fail your trust. We know the markets we are going into and, particularly in my playground in Asia, there is a huge opportunity to replicate the AirAsia model and give consumers access to exciting, affordable products that marry our interests in F1 and technology and help make their dreams come true."
Fernandes also hinted towards potential market positioning for the new car, as well as allaying fears as to the future of Caterham's cornerstone product, the Seven: "The Caterham Seven is part of our DNA and will always continue to be so. The new sports car we build will be similarly affordable. In F1 only Ferrari and Mclaren produce road cars, and they are exceedingly expensive. The affordability of our car will be key. If we get the quality and the price right it will sell, recession or no recession."
Renault's chief operating officer Carlos Tavares added: "Our ambitions of reviving Alpine depended on our ability to find a partner in order to ensure the economic profitability of such an adventure. Right from the start, we wanted to place the Dieppe plant at the heart of the project.
"Today, through our partnership with Caterham Group, we can enter a new phase: the design of a car that will embody the very essence of Alpine, a vehicle that will rekindle sporting passion once more. It could become a reality within the next three or four years.