Renault will formally revive its Alpine performance brand next year with an all-new sports car closely related to this concept, the Alpine Vision.
The Alpine Vision is a mid-engined two-seat coupé that will make its public debut at the Geneva motor show next month. It was unveiled by Renault boss Carlos Ghosn at an event in Monte Carlo, a location chosen as a nod to the original Alpine’s historic early successes on the Monte Carlo Rally.
A whole new team and division has been set up within Renault to help launch and develop the Alpine brand. The division has a dedicated boss (Michael van der Sande) and deputy managing director (Bernard Ollivier, a former Renault Sport chief), a head of design (Antony Villain, the man behind recent Alpine concepts) and a head of sales and marketing (Arnaud Delebecque, a Renault veteran who also has rallying experience).
Ghosn said the time was right to launch Alpine as the Renault group was a strong and profitable business. He said Alpine represented a long-term investment that would build over time. “We will build and invest patiently,” he said.
The plan is not to relaunch Alpine as a single-model entity but as a brand with several sporting models, including an SUV that has been hotly tipped to join the new sports car in 2018.
The production version of the new sports car will be unveiled before the end of this year and go on sale in the second quarter of 2017.
The Alpine relaunch was originally planned as part of a joint venture with Caterham, but this ended in 2014 when Renault bought out Caterham’s 50% stake.
Indeed, the whole project was considered in doubt at one point, because it had been seen as a pet project of former Renault chief operating officer Carlos Tavares, who left the firm in 2013 before taking over at PSA Peugeot Citroën. However, that was not the case and the Alpine project has progressed in the background.
Renault came close to reviving Alpine in 2008 before the global financial crisis made the project a non-starter. In 2012, the 50th anniversary of Alpine was celebrated with the Mégane racer-based Alpine A110-50 concept car, and later that year the comeback proper for Alpine was announced with the Caterham deal.
Further concept cars followed last year, including a virtual one created for the Gran Turismo video game and the Alpine Celebration at Le Mans, a concept that edged the Alpine brand closer to production again and forms the basis of the new Vision.
Although officially billed as a show car, the Alpine Vision is a very close preview of the model that will go into production next year. Alpine design director Villain said “80% of the style of our forthcoming car” is reflected in the latest concept.
“This is very close – very close – to production,” Ghosn added on just how close the concept was to reality. Concept car features not set to make production include the wing mirrors and wheels, but the design is otherwise representative of what Alpine will put into production in 2017.
Alpine describes the Vision as a “high-performance, elegant, lightweight car dedicated to driving pleasure in its very purest form”.
Renault believes it has spotted a gap in the sports car market for a model that is “simple, fluid and very uncomplicated” and also has everyday usability. So said Alpine boss Ollivier to Autocar at Le Mans last year when the Celebration was shown.
“A real Alpine means the DNA of Alpine, which is light, fast and fun to drive,” said Ollivier. “We think a new Alpine should be firstly a modern car, with a modern design and modern technology, and secondly a car which also shows the heritage.”
Van der Sande said the design of the Alpine wasn’t retro, and was “very modern, very contemporary”. Design chief Antony Villain added that he hoped the design would be recognised as a classic in the future. He also said he was pleased there was now a French car in the segment to give greater elegance, and the Alpine had a very small footprint next to its rivals.
Very few details of the car have been confirmed by Alpine at this stage. It has been revealed that the engine will be a turbocharged four-cylinder unit of an unspecified capacity. However, Autocar understands the engine will be a 1.8-litre unit developed from the turbocharged 1.6-litre engine used in the Clio RS.
The engine’s outputs are also undisclosed at this stage, but sources have indicated the Alpine will have around 250bhp as standard and up to 300bhp in a higher-performance version that will use more aggressive turbocharging.
It is understood to be hooked up to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission driving the rear wheels, something backed up by the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters in the interior of the concept car. There was no comment on whether or not the Alpine would be offered with a manual gearbox from van der Sande, although he said there are no plans for an electric version at present.
Alpine has confirmed a 0-62mph time of less than 4.5sec. A kerb weight of around 1100kg is also expected, with lightness considered to be of greater importance than outright power. Indeed, Ollivier told Autocar last year: “The ratio of light weight versus power is not negotiable; it’s the DNA.”
The design references the classic Alpine A110 and other past Alpines with details such as central circular lights at the front with a cross graphic in them.
The cabin is very high-tech, and an Audi TT-style digital dashboard is one of its notable features. There’s a rich mix of materials, including leather, aluminium and carbonfibre, as well as plenty of nods to motorsport, with twin bucket seats, harness belts and aluminium fastening buckles.
The interior is understood to be very driver-focused, with a low-slung driving position and limited switchgear. Other features of the production car previewed by the Vision concept include a Sport mode, which will most likely sharpen the drive further.
The interior is deliberately a much more modern affair, and based around the driver, with particular attention paid to the steering wheel, seats and TFT display.
The bespoke chassis is mid-rear engined, is lightweight, made from a mixture of materials, and has been designed and engineered by Renault Sport.
The car has no rear spoiler, and the all the main aerodynamic work is underneath the car, where it has a flat floor and a rear diffuser. The Vision is not about aero, however, with the emphasis mainly on simplicity and driving pleasure.
Autocar understands a kerb weight target of 1000kg was originally given to the project, although this was abandoned because it would have required the use of expensive carbonfibre bodywork.
Renault’s chief competitive officer Thierry Bolloré said the Alpine brand was ideal in becoming a technology leader in the Renault group, and would pioneer with lightweight materials and aerodynamic solutions.
As with the earlier Celebration concept, the Vision gets bespoke Alpine badging and branding without any Renault badges. The white-coloured Vision concept is a development of the blue Celebration concept. It has been adapted to be more of a road car, in contrast to the racing brief of the Celebration.
The new Alpine will be built at Renault’s factory in Dieppe, which was Alpine’s original production plant. The factory currently builds Renault Sport models, as well as Bluecar electric vehicles for the Bolloré company that runs car sharing schemes in Europe. The factory will be subject to significant investment according to van der Sande, to ensure Alpine cars meet the quality sports car customers expect.
Alpine is set to be launched in Europe before sales go global, including to North America. Renault doesn’t sell vehicles in North America at present, in part explaining why Alpine has been given a brand identity and logo independent from Renault’s.
As for talk of expanding Alpine into a range of cars, Ghosn said: “We start with a production version of this car with a vision of building a brand. We have to get this one right or there will be no brand.” This sentiment was echoed by Alpine managing director Michael van der Sande, who said the immediate priorities were to get the launch of the first model right, build up a team, and continue with the Alpine racing programme, which would expand into the World Endurance Championship this year.
Alpine is also part of a renewed performance push from Renault, which has returned to Formula 1 this year with the express intention of selling more cars and growing its Renault Sport business.
Renault Sport Racing boss Cyril Abiteboul, who heads up the firm’s new F1 team, said there would be a transfer between road and race programmes. “We have talked a lot about tech transfers, and now we have a fantastic platform to make it happen.”
A price of around £40,000 is tipped for the Alpine, which would put it in direct competition with the Porsche 718 Cayman, which will be relaunched this year with a four-cylinder turbo engine. Ghosn wouldn’t say a price, his only confirmation being that it will be less than the €80,000 an old Alpine will cost on the used market. Van der Sande said Alpine was “trying to find the right price that would be premium positioning in the segment, not too cheap or too expensive”.
Ghosn said he didn’t see any real competitors for the Alpine, as it was a unique proposition in the marketplace. Models like the Lotus Elise are seen as more extreme and models like the Porsche Cayman too heavy, with the Alpine occupying the middle ground Renault believes is empty at present.
Comment - Matt Prior - Why the new Alpine is so exciting
The most informative thing about the details of the Alpine Vision is the picture of it alongside an A110. If you haven’t seen an A110 in the metal, they are tiny. That the Vision doesn’t dwarf it, like nearly all other modern sports cars and hatchbacks would, is reason to get excited.
Renault will tell you plenty of stats about Alpine’s history - the 30,000 road cars and more than 100 race cars it made - and all of its stage and race wins. Of course it will; it has done nothing with this brand since 1995 and has some ‘engagement’ to do with customers.
But for you and me, the most important number today is this one: 1100kg. Only track-focused specials whose hoods (if they have them at all) skin your knuckles beat that. The Lotus Elise and Alfa Romeo 4C are close, but it’s still considerably lighter than a Porsche Cayman, even one with four cylinders.
With the rebirth of Alpine, the sports car world is about to get a lot more exciting. And if the production car is as pure as the Vision, I can’t wait for it.
Alpine - the first 60 years
1955 - The Alpine Dieppe factory begins production of its first model, the A106.
1961 - Production of the A110 begins. It quickly helps to shoot Alpine into the limelight.
1963 - Alpine wins the French Sport Prototype Championship with a Gordini-tweaked M63.
1964 - A win in the French Formula 3 Championship marks the start of several successful single-seater campaigns.
1967 - Alpine wins its first rally championship, with Bernard Tramont and co-driver Ricardo Munoz taking the Spanish crown in an A110.
1973 - Renault buys Alpine. The brands work together to develop cars for both road and competition. The A110 wins the inaugural World Rally Championship in 1973.
1976 - Production of Alpine’s best-selling model, the V6-engined A310, begins. It goes on to sell 9276 units.
1995 - Production of the last Alpine, the A610, ends, but the brand’s Dieppe factory continues under Renault ownership.
2015 - Renault reveals the Alpine Celebration concept at Le Mans, previewing a production model that will appear later in 2016.