When we met with Caterham Group CEO Graham Macdonald last year the message was very much ‘Vive la différence’, but it now seems the differences between Renault and Caterham Cars have grown so far as to make the relationship untenable.
“Believe the Unbelievable, Dream the Impossible and Don’t Take No for An Answer.”
For months the tensions between both sides has grown, exasperated further when Renault confirmed the Alpine sports car project had been delayed until late 2016 at the earliest.
Ever since former Renault COO Carlos Tavares left in September, the ‘Entente Cordiale’ between the joint venture parties has worsened, becoming toxic last month when Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn sanctioned a significant redesign after much of the targeted feedback from potential customers was unfavourable.
The consequence of a delay to Caterham would have been significant, despite Macdonald confirming recently that order books for the revitalised Seven were full.
Simply put Caterham need a modern, cost-efficient platform from which a range of premium cars can be built containing that all-important ‘Caterham DNA’. With volumes of the Seven unlikely to exceed more than 1,000 units in even a good year, revenues were never likely to support the £100m or so required for the F1 team to play in the big league — far less the brand’s activities in GP2 and its move into Moto2 this year.
Caterham co-owner Tony Fernandes had been counting on the revenues and this opening other doors within the Nissan/Renault alliance. This, after all, was why he went to Dieppe in the first place — bailing out the struggling Alpine operation and piggy-backing on Renault’s experience and infrastructure, allowing Caterham to focus on doing what it does best. At least that was the plan.
First step was the 21st century Alpine sports car, followed by a range of compact premium crossovers which would “lay the foundations for an expansive product family that delivers ‘accessible fun’ to new markets” – especially those in the ASEAN region.
Macdonald made it very clear when we spoke last year; the philosophy of Fernandes is that “Cars should support Motorsport” and the Renault-Alpine joint venture was key to realising that strategy.
They employed a substantial team of engineers to develop a product that was originally targeted for late 2015, yet is now not expected at all. Of course there are other options open to Caterham, but none which support Fernandes’ plans to leverage a scalable architecture.
Over the past few days we’ve spoken with several insiders who’ve mentioned plans to accelerate progress of the AeroSeven, fitting a roof and gull-wing doors which would thereby add to its weight and more importantly cost. They might go looking for a redundant project, but while this would fill a gap in the short-term, is unlikely to facilitate future volume models.
“Tony thought he was being clever by using Renault,” said an insider, “..but they used him too, simply to keep Dieppe alive.”
We asked Caterham to comment on the news but are still awaiting their response.
Words: Steve Davies & Steve Hindle.