A report yesterday by the Bloomberg news agency did a very good job of revealing the uncomfortable jam that Renault has got itself into over the last decade.
It’s attempts to clamber out of the mainstream have not only crashed and burned, it seems be inadvertently succeeding at the budget end of the new car market.
At the turn of the century, Renault triggered its plan to move its image away from the mainstream and into something like a French Volkswagen.
It opened its product onslaught with the Avantime, Laguna and Vel Satis. These were followed up by the bustle-back Megane and the Espace.
All of the cars were meant to be unique, polished and upmarket. Chanel rather than Chevrolet. Renault figured that these upmarket big cars would reflect well on the mainstream cars and the company could bridge the pricing gap between it and VW.
This plan, of course, failed. The Vel Satis didn’t sell well, the Laguna was hit by electrical maladies and the Megane sold strongly at first, before falling away.
The Vel Satis, Espace and Laguna are all based on the same basic platform and built at Renault’s Sandouville plant. The Vel Satis died last August, the replacement for the Espace was cancelled in 2008 and the Laguna is selling at half the rate the company expected.
So the decision to import the Samsung-derived SM5 as the Renault Latitude is a sensible holding move, allowing the company a toehold in the European big car market.
However, Bloomberg’s report revealed a factual gem that shows just how far Renault has been blown off course.
Apparently, last year Dacia sales accounted for a massive 11 per cent of the French new car market. (But then, the French have always had a soft spot for super-basic superminis they can drive into the ground).
The Renault-owned Romanian budget brand was not originally aimed at Western Europe but seems to have become a huge hit in France.
The upshot is that it’s no surprise the French Unions have decided to publicly protest about the introduction of the imported Latitude.
The runaway success of imported budget Dacias is one thing, but the lack of clear plans for Renault’s domestically made big cars makes the Korean Latitude look like the shape of large Renault cars to come.
Recently, Renault’s head of product planning hinted that there was a pent-up demand for a large, relatively basic, big family hatch (which sounds rather like a modern 25).
Could such a car be sourced from Korea?
It’s ironic that a decade after aiming upmarket, Renault seems to be increasingly finding success with traditionally French cars: simple and inexpensive.
The problem for Renault is that the French government is demanding car production be kept at home, when no-nonsense cars can be made abroad rather more profitability.