First and foremost the announcement by Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO of Renault this morning is ‘not’ to build the Alpine A110-50 Concept (as shown above). The feasibility of such a project is still far from proven, although we may see something similar in the years to come, or a design inspired by the Renault DeZir concept on which it was based.
Instead this is a new partnership between Renault and Caterham Group to form a company, The Société des Automobiles Alpine Caterham, owned 50:50 by Caterham Group and Renault SAS. The company will be incorporated in January 2013 and led by Bernard Ollivier, former General Manager of Renault Sport Technologies.
The product of this union will be a series of sports cars, built at the Alpine plant in Dieppe, Normand – home of the Clio R.S. The project is being supported by the French Haute Normandie region who will provide incentives and support for development and expansion of the Dieppe Plant.
The announcement this morning stated, “Renault and Caterham Group will combine their skills to build models in large and small series (volume and limited edition models), in order to widen their positioning on the sports vehicle market.”
Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO of Renault, describes their objective as “..the creation of a sports car with the Alpine DNA.”, while Carlos Tavares, COO Renault (pictured above) says “..the design of a vehicle that will embody the very essence of Alpine, a vehicle that will rekindle sporting passion once more. It could become a reality within the next three or four years.”
However the press release goes on to say that the objective for each company is to launch its ‘own vehicle’ in this market within the next three to four years. This would seem to imply a single car, branded and sold separately by each company (rather like the GT86/BRZ) – one called a Caterham, the other an Alpine Renault – perhaps with different body panels, but sharing the same engine, drivetrain and floorplan.
Renault and Caterham Group will each bring their respective technical skills to the development of future products through a newly-created joint Engineering Department, split 50:50 between both partners and drawing upon the wider skills in each, including Renault Sport Technologies and Caterham Technology & Innovation (CTI).
The new Alpine Caterham entity will also take over the competition activities of Renault Sport Technologies, given both are based in Alpine’s Dieppe plant, however Caterham’s Group CTO, Mike Gascoyne, said on Twitter this morning, “All the design for the joint venture from the Caterham side will be done from our base in Norfolk. Good news for jobs in the area.”
Joining the announcement this morning was Caterham Group Chairman – Tony Fernandes, Deputy Chairman – Kamarudin Meranun, Graham Macdonald – Managing Director, Caterham Cars and Group Technical Officer – Mike Gascoyne.
Fernandes said, “I have not felt as excited about a new venture since I launched AirAsia in 2001 and I want to thank Carlos Ghosn and Carlos Tavares and everyone in our new Renault family for having the belief in Caterham Group to create this partnership. ..We know the markets we are going into and, particularly in my playground in Asia, there is a huge opportunity to replicate the AirAsia model and give consumers access to exciting, affordable products that marry our interests in F1 and technology and help make their dreams come true.
“In F1 only Ferrari and Mclaren produce road cars, and they are exceedingly expensive. The affordability of our car will be key. If we get the quality and the price right it will sell, recession or no recession.”
I am somewhat more reassured by Kamarudin Meranum’s statement, “Formula 1 was always our entry point into the car business. Our original plans to develop a partnership with Lotus were put aside in spectacular and well documented style, but now we have a far better chance to develop Caterham Cars in partnership with Renault, working with Caterham Technology who are also integrally involved in this new venture.
“Our F1 team has already been working successfully with Renault Sport F1 since the start of the 2011 F1 season and I am thrilled that now we are adding to our track partnership by joining forces with Renault on the road. Together with Renault we have now created an opportunity for Caterham Cars to grow into the next stage of its development from a very well respected niche brand into a serious player on the global motoring map.”
As we said in the past, Fernandes and Meranun’s goal for Caterham is to move the brand from being a low-volume niche car maker into an affordable global producer of more usable sports cars.
There is a huge market opportunity in China, which despite a slight decline in GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth during the past 12 months is still forecast to grow by at least 7.9% year-on-year until 2020 – that’s an increase of several trillion dollars. With the current anti-Japanese sentiment in China and the $345 billion of trade this represents, emerging economies such as those in Malaysia, Korea and Singapore are positioning themselves for a harvest.
While the logic is irrefutable for Fernandes and Meranun, the jury is still out on what this means for Caterham as a brand and whether its current DNA will still be recognisable in five or ten years from now.
The resulting products of this new union are said to be rear-drive, two seater cars priced at less than €50,000 (today’s prices). There will be little room for sentimentality – this is a project that’s driven by a robust business case, rather than any aspirations to revive the Alpine name, so will need to float by itself based upon the volume of cars it can sell.
But one thing’s for sure, with today’s announcement, the future of Caterham Cars has received a huge boost – the question is, where will this boost of momentum take it?
Note: Caterham has created a website dedicated to this announcement – futurecaterham.com, where a video will soon be hosted and you can register your interest to receive further information.