Insiders admit there are "creative tensions" between Renault and Caterham as the two firms co-develop a new sports car
12 February 2014

The design of the Alpine sports car is being revised following a mixed reception from potential customers, amid reports of creative tensions between Renault and Caterham.

The two firms are jointly developing the car for their own individual projects, and will each launch their own distinct version. 

Autocar understands that a styling mule of the proposed Porsche Cayman-rivalling Alpine was shown at a secret customer clinic, but that feedback was, at best, mixed.

As a result, Renault bosses have ordered a rethink, putting the entire project back to a late 2016 launch at the earliest – around a year behind the anticipated schedule.

Renault’s decision is understood to have a knock-on effect for Caterham. The British firm had signed off its final design some months ago, but is now awaiting Renault’s new direction for the car, as its bodywork will have to maintain the same dimensions and fixing points as those set for the Alpine.

As part of the joint venture, both cars will be launched at the same time, although there remains a likelihood they will run the Renault-sourced powertrain in different states of tune. The Alpine has been tipped to get 250bhp, with Caterham said to be chasing nearer 300bhp. The target kerb weight is 1100kg.

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 are creative tensions between the partners

“There are ongoing frustrations on both sides, but we knew there would be challenges from the start,” he said. “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 last year is not said to be the reason the project has stalled.

An insider told Autocar: “Immediately after he left, Caterham was given assurances from the highest levels at Renault that the joint venture remained a priority. That commitment remains in place.”

In an official statement to Autocar, the French company said: “Renault does not comment on rumours about future models. However, we can say that it is standard procedure for Renault to run customer clinics with future products.  As a result, sometimes, we make some evolutions to the design. This is a very normal process for new product design.”

The delay has led to speculation that Caterham co-owner Tony Fernandes could lose patience with progress at the road and race cars divisions of the firm. At the launch of its F1 car last month he indicated he would consider pulling the team out of Formula 1 if it didn’t end its status as a back-of-the-grid team this year.

“Tony is a passionate guy who talks from the heart and wants results, but he knows our long-term plans on the road car side, and he knows the value the F1 team gives those plans," said MacDonald. “Our road car order books are full – we have a six-month waiting list – and F1 is an integral part of that. The business is in good health.”

Our Verdict

The Caterham Seven is the essence of a stripped-down sports car

The Caterham Seven is a stripped-down sportscar offering one of the most pure driving experiences available. It is a true classic.

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12 February 2014
This joint venture will devolve and you will end up with two cars nobody wants to buy.

12 February 2014
They did this with the Mk2 Twingo (before they facelifted it) and look how that turned out. Hope Renault know what they're doing with this because it really has potential! Let's hope it doesn't get a watered down look like the Twingo did.

"Work hard and be nice to people"

18 February 2014
that autocar image of the caterham may be as much fantasy as anything but just imagine that body made from the lightest materials possible and put onto an r500. now that would be a sportscar.

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