I’m unlikely to forget the day we were summoned to Renault UK’s HQ in December 2011, on the eve of Christmas, to learn that the firm was instigating sweeping changes, axing four models from its line-up – including the once strong selling Laguna – and killing off dealerships.
It was bleak news after a particularly bleak run of sales for Renault UK, which had left it in the red since 2006. Without drastic action, the reasoning went, nothing was going to change.
Painful though it was, history has proven the actions to be well aimed. In 2012 the firm sold around 55,000 cars and vans in the UK; this year it will be closer to 130,000. An aggressive new product launch strategy has helped, of course, with Clio and Captur leading the way, but so has a sharp focus on putting profitability ahead of volume.
Today the UK is Renault’s eighth strongest market, and fifth largest European market. Perhaps most remarkably, 90% of its customers are measured as new to the brand, although this actually means they haven’t owned a Renault in the past two years.
Either way, that means Renault is conquesting customers from other brands more aggressively than any of its competitors. People clearly like what they see, read and drive, and they are open-minded enough to try them out for themselves.
But that figure is also double-edged, of course. If 90% of your customers are coming from other brands, it begs the question of where your current customers are going after they’ve parted with their Renault. Clearly many are showing little in the way of loyalty.
In part, today’s new announcement - the new Renault Megane - can play a significant role in answering that question, as can the soon-to-be-on-sale Renault Kadjar; both give Clio and Captur customers somewhere to progress to as they develop a need for more space.
However, it also suggests that Renault still has work to do on ensuring its customers like what they buy and that they revel in the ownership experience so much that they are willing to do it again. There’s work to do - not that Renault UK’s bosses haven’t worked it out for themselves.
All in, it’s a remarkable turnaround. But you get the feeling the hard work has only just begun.