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24 September 2020

Renault’s tiny Alpine sub-brand is likely to see a significant expansion even as the French carmaker makes significant cutbacks in the wake of the global pandemic.

Despite selling just 4400 of its aluminium mid-engined A110 model in 2019, a leaked internal memo reported by Bloomberg suggests that new Renault boss Luca de Meo wants to see Alpine line-up expand and even move into a ‘series of small electric cars’.

The memo was said to refer to Alpine having a ‘Porsche 911 program’, something which could develop into the brand rolling out a wider range of high-performance variants and limited-editions, in a way that has characterised the German sports car over decades.

With lightness at the core of the Alpine project is seems unlikely that future variants will get engines bigger than four-cylinders but higher outputs - heading beyond 300bhp - seem likely, as does a hybrid four-pot drivetrain.

On the other side of the ledger, other future versions of the A110 are likely to emphasise weight saving and an even purer driving experience. The current model weighs in around 1100kg. The potential for a sub-tonne A110 is clear.

The Alpine is brand is clearly of significant importance to Renault as its becomes the face of the company’s motorsport efforts. As well as the Renault F1 re-branding as Alpine for the 2021 season, Alpine will enter a car in the LMP1 class in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

The leaked memo also suggested that Alpine might ‘spawn a series of small electric cars’. These might be the new models recently hinted at by Alpine Managing Director Patrick Marinoff. He recently told Autocar “there will be Alpine models coming up. We can't tell you exactly when and what, but the momentum behind the Alpine brand is very strong, and our new CEO, Luca de Meo, is a promoter of Alpine as a brand.”

This raises the intriguing possibility that Renault may launch a new variant of the best-selling Zoe as a more sporting ‘hot hatch’ using the Alpine brand.  The logic of such a move is impeccable: EVs have sparkling performance but are currently styled and marketed as low-impact eco-friendly transport. An Alpine EV could open a new market for Renault and give it the jump on the rest of industry. The company has previously experimented with performance EVs, producing a concept Zoe e-Sport with 460bhp, though it never reached production.

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Alpine’s expanding role comes in stark contrast to the rest of Renault, which could see even bigger cuts that already announced, according to the leaked memo. 

In May cuts of around 2bn Euros were announced but these might be deepened over the next two years because of the maker’s ‘dire cash position’. Renault could cut its model range by 30% and increase the price of smaller cars by 25-30%. 

The latter hints at both reversing a policy of showroom discounting and the extra cost of building more mainstream hybrid models.

The memo suggested that Renault’s patchy profitability record had been powered mainly by financial services and aftermarket sales rather making money from car sales. 

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24 September 2020

I would have thought that launching a super-duper turbocharged to the rafters, 4 wheel drive version of the Megan or something ordinary to make people take notice that this is a "Renault on steroids" might have been a better publicity strategy as no-one has heard of Alpine and it doesn't sound particularly French, Gordini (if they still own the name) would have been a better and more charismatic choice.

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