Renault will re-launch the Alpine brand with a new sports car in 2016, which is tipped to cost around £50,000.
￼￼The long-awaited sports car was previewed by the Alpine Celebration concept at the recent Le Mans 24hr race.
Alpine Celebration unveiled at 2015 Le Mans 24hr race
The car was present at La Sarthe ostensibly to support the entry of an Alpine-backed contender in the LMP2 category of the endurance classic.
The Alpine Celebration bears strong resemblances to Alpines of old, most notably the A110 Berlinetta which has clearly influenced the new car’s scalloped bonnet and twin spotlights mounted high on the front bumper. The rear is more contemporary, although there are clear references to the A110 in the way the shoulder line tapers away beyond the back wheels, not to mention the blue and orange paint scheme.
Alpine design boss Antony Villain said, “We envisaged the Alpine Celebration show car as the crowning glory of six decades of Alpine style and motor racing. But we wanted to go even further by reaching out to a much broader audience.”
Renault has not released any mechanical information about the concept beyond confirming its mid-engined layout. However, the Celebration is understood to be the logical offspring of the work started in 2012 between Alpine and Caterham.
That project was dissolved when Renault bought back the British sports car brand’s stake in 2014. At the time, Renault said it would continue using the technology developed by the two firms. The Celebration is said to use the project’s platform and construction principles.
The most recent Alpine concept, 2012’s A110-50, featured the V6 engine from a Renault Mégane Trophy race car. However, it is understood that the production version of the Celebration will adhere more closely to the A110’s tradition of modest power outputs and light weight by featuring a four-cylinder petrol engine driving the rear wheels.
An output of around 250bhp has been mooted, so the 2.0-litre unit from the Renaultsport Mégane is more likely to feature instead of the 1.6 from the Renaultsport Clio.
Controversially, a dual-clutch transmission is considered more likely than a manual gearbox.
The A110 successor is seen by senior Renault officials as a crucial way of ‘re-legitimising’ the Alpine name, and opening up the potential for a wider range of models.
Laurens van den Acker, Renault’s design boss, said, “The challenge with Alpine is to somehow fill this gap of more than 20 years and do a product that is believable. The car really needs to create the foundation of Alpine. We need to create the 911 of Alpine. If we do that properly, then we can consider cars like the Panamera.”The production Alpine will almost certainly be built in the company’s original factory in Dieppe.
The plant is still under Renault ownership but is used only for small-volume products. It currently makes the Renaultsport Clio, and recently started assembling Bluecar electric vehicles for the Bolloré company that also owns the Source London charging network.
From its Le Mans debut, the concept is likely to make its next appearance at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, where a special display celebrating 60 years of Alpine is already planned.
Models which will feature as part of the display include the 1955 A106, the A110, the 1978 Le Mans-winning A442b and the A450b, Alpine's current World Endurance Championship car.
Production Alpine sports car almost ready
Having been spotted testing at the Nürburgring since summer 2013, it's understood that development on the 2016 sports car is entering the final stages. Early test mules hid under Lotus bodywork, while the car is believed to sit on an all-new platform.
The team testing the mule at the Nürburgring was high-performance suspensions specialist Ohlins, known for its work on Renaultsport models.
Renault officials have previously said the new car must become a halo model for Alpine, fulfilling a similar role to that of the Porsche 911. Van den Acker said: "I feel the car really needs to create the foundation of Alpine. We need to create the 911 of Alpine. If we do that properly then we can consider [making] cars like the Panamera.”
Described as the "Berlinette of the 21st century", it is understood that the complete design, including the car's interior, has now been signed off.
The current launch date of 2016 is around a year later than first planned.
Caterham's Alpine rival
Caterham's design for its own sports car, known internally as C120, is believed to have been ready for some time, but as both cars were due to be launched together it's likely this contributed to the ending of the partnership.
It's understood that the British company will continue to use the tech it has already developed with Renault for its own car. The company has admitted that there will be some job losses at its Norfolk-based tech centre as a result.
Caterham insiders are also refuting rumours that the firm has acquired beleagured German sports car maker Artega to make use of its mid-engined platform and production facilities. Caterham's finished car is expected to have around 300bhp available, while Renault's Alpine is tipped to have around 250bhp and a kerb weight of some 1100kg.
Both cars will have separate bodies and interiors, and their handling and driving characteristics will be tuned differently. Caterham also intends to launch more versions of its car with varying power outputs after the first model goes on sale.
The future of Alpine
Alpine bosses have been open about the future of the brand, with plans for a whole family of models openly discussed. Speaking to Autocar at the Moscow motor show last year, van den Acker said there was “a hope” that the sports car would spearhead a range of Alpine-branded vehicles.
“As with many things we need to have a good business first. We all love Alpines but we all want to make money as well. Let’s get the first car right and then I hope I can start doing Alpines for the rest of my life,” he said.
Final details are being kept closely under wraps, as Van den Acker admits “I’ve been a bit cagey to talk too much about it. Sports cars are an endangered species – there are always ten reasons not to do it.”
Van den Acker is understood to have shelved plans to design a production version of the Renault DeZir concept in favour of working on the Alpine car. "Even I’d admit that’s not necessary," he said "I gladly defer DeZir in order to do an Alpine."
The design of the car is understood to have been delayed at several stages, as creative tensions with Caterham surfaced. Caterham Group CEO Graham Macdonald declined to comment on specifics of the joint venture, but admitted the project had fallen behind schedule and that there were creative tensions between the former partners.
“There are ongoing frustrations on both sides," he told Autocar in 2014 "but we knew there would be challenges from the start. It was never going to be easy: we are a small, agile company and they are a large, corporate firm. That’s causing frustrations for us and, I’m sure, for them.”
The departure of then Renault boss Carlos Tavares - a long-term supporter of plans to revive Alpine - from the company in 2013 is not said to be the reason the project has stalled.
Q&A with Alpine boss Bernard Olliver
Does this confirm that a production car is on the way now?
“Yes and no. Yes because it’s a sign that we are beginning to get the concept, but it’s not finished. Our objective through Alpine Celebration is to assess. It is very difficult for us - we have to relaunch a brand. This is very rare on the market. And it is very difficult to be sure what kind of expectations customers will have, and at the end what kind of profitability we will have.
"For instance, you have seen the Alpine Celebration in the village [where it is on display to the public]. If I change the logo and I put Renaultsport, or Porsche, or Lotus. Is there a difference of assessment by people? If they are interested. It is very important for us. What kind of people? Perhaps if I put Porsche it’s not the same customer than if it is Alpine or Renault Sport. So it’s quite a survey.
"We think… we have our idea. Our objective is to validate our idea or to change. My opinion is that the potential customers are very modern so they are waiting for a modern car, but of course if you buy an Alpine, you are waiting for a real Alpine.
"A real Alpine means the DNA of Alpine, which is light, fast and fun to drive. So our proposition with Alpine Celebration is that we think a new Alpine should be - firstly, a modern car, with a modern design and modern technology. Secondly - a car which also shows the heritage."
It’s a very difficult balance then?
"The design of the car is very, very important. Probably 80% of the decision to buy a car is down to the design. So it’s very, very crucial.
"But after that, there are other points, the positioning of the car, performance, comfort and of course all the economic topics with the profitability."
Is there a timeframe to launch the car?
"We would prefer to be sure than to be quick. But also this is not only about France. France is quite a small market. Of course, I think about Germany, the UK, Japan etc. And this car will go to Goodwood in the UK.
"I am very interested because I know British people love cars. The design is quite close, it is not an Italian design. It will be very interesting for us to measure the feedback from Goodwood."
So you are still deciding on your markets, as well as the technology of the car?
"No. For me there are some topics that are not to be negotiated, because it is in the DNA. And the DNA of Alpine is not negotiable. The ratio of lightweight vs power is not negotiable, it’s the DNA."
Has developing the road car been a challenge?
"My challenge is the market has not waited for us. All the places are taken by carmakers and so we have to take our place. For that we need to be very strong on our uniqueness. If we copy Lotus, or Porsche, why will we succeed?
"It’s possible we will succeed because our car will be different. An Alpine has to be different to a Lotus."
What can you tell us about the final product?
"If you see our car, you can see this car will be useable daily. The car will be elegant, with the French idea of elegance. Simple, fluid, and very uncomplicated. It will be special. So we think these topics are not in the market today. So we have our place.
"There must already be quite a bit of confidence that there is a market for Alpine. What gives you that?
"I am confident we will be able to find the good solution. But today we have not finished solving the remaining issues. For instance, the profitability hot topic. If the profitability is low it means we are not sure on the long-term future. It is very important for me and for the Renault Group to build something for the long-term."
What customers are you aiming for with Alpine?
"The customers for Alpine cars won’t be the same as for Renault. For instance, even the customer for Renault Sport is probably young, not very rich, and he is buying a car which is useable for all the things he has to do.
"For Alpine, it’s not that. It is very passionate people, quite rich, probably it’s the third or fourth car for them. It’s a car only for pleasure for the weekend, not to drive a lot, only for pleasure. Is this customer going to go to a Renault dealer to buy an Alpine? I’m not sure, because you want to get a very, very dedicated service."
Is this concept close to the final product?
"We will modify this concept using feedback from today, tomorrow and Goodwood. We will modify, we will look for a good balance. I’m not sure this is for next year – the timing is dependant on our ability to make the right car."
Additional reporting by Darren Moss and Simon Strang
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