As you’ve seen in the Alpine Concept photo gallery yesterday, Renault is relaunching the Alpine brand with a retro-styled sports car that should compete with the Alfa Romeo 4C, the Porsche Cayman and the Lotus models. The production model will arrive in Europe in 2017 and will look very similar to the concept, as about “80% of its style” is reflected in the concept, according to design director Antony villain. The sports car will be a precursor to a full line-up of premium cars and SUVs under the Alpine brand, including hybrids. This is a similar strategy that Alfa Romeo has implemented with its return to the North American market: start with a low-volume halo-car and then follow up with a range of volume models which can than benefit from the sporty image that the sports car has given the brand.
It is reported that the Alpine will be sold in five continents, which had gotten American media all excited, but it isn’t clear whether this concerns the production version of the sports car (perhaps under different brands, for example Infiniti or Nissan in the US, where Renault is not sold), or if it means the Alpine brand with its full line-up. That would actually make more sense, because I don’t really see the point of launching a lightweight driver-oriented sports car in continents outside of Europe, North America and Australia. Car buyers in South-America, Asia and North-Africa are not at all interested in such a vehicle, especially from an unknown brand. And not only because most roads in those places aren’t really suited for it in the first place.
In line with its competitors Alfa 4C and Lotus Elise, lightness is an important aspect of the car’s character, as it will weigh around 1.100 kilograms and is rumored to be powered by a 250 horsepower 1,8 liter four-cylinder engine, derived from the 1,6 liter unit in the Renault Clio RS and which should also power the next generation Megane RS. However, what I consider to be a missed opportunity is that it isn’t a fully electric sports car.
If you’re (re)launching an all-new brand and want to set its first model apart from the masses, then you’ll need to do something radical to attract attention. Retro styling referring to a 1970s car from a brand that last made cars more than 20 years ago isn’t going to appeal much to the younger crowd that may not even remember the original Alpine cars. And the concept of light weight and a four-cylinder engine has been perfected by the 900 kilogram 4C with its carbon-fiber tub.
So if they had wanted to do something to really set Alpine on the map, they should’ve gone all-electric. The Tesla Roadster has already proven it can be done back in 2008, and there’s a market for it. It worked perfectly to put the unknown Tesla brand on the radar and created a cult-like following. And even then, Renault is planning to sell about 3.000 units of the Alpine sports car a year, but most analysts (including me) think that’s a bit ambitious and set the expectations at about 1.200 to 1.500 a year in Europe, similar to the volume of the 4C and the Lotus brand with three vehicles. That kind of volume can be reached with an electric sports car as well.
Renault is the leading brand in electric vehicle sales in Europe and even worldwide, together with its partner Nissan, so it has the expertise and the scale to develop such a car, and an electric sports car in its range would only add to its image of zero-emission leadership. Moreover, Renault’s success in Formula E could give the Alpine some zero emission racing credentials.
Even a plug-in hybrid would’ve been cool, as a lower-priced alternative to the successful BMW i8, and it would be a great halo for a full range of hybrid premium cars under the Alpine brand, which would then make it a challenger to Lexus, which also aims to offer a (non plug-in) hybrid version of each of its models. Then Alpine as a brand would also make sense in North America, as it will be different enough from existing brands. But in the end I think a zero emission sports car would be a better fit within the Renault-Nissan Alliance, and it would give the Alpine brand exactly the free publicity and halo effect that it is looking for with its first car in over 20 years.
Let me know what you think in the poll below or in the comments.