Alpine to rescale the heights

Herald Sun - Motoring - - PRESTIGE - MAL­COLM FLYNN

IT’S taken 20 years, a re­turn to Le­Mans and three con­cepts but the re­vival of Re­nault’s Alpine per­for­mance arm is nearly com­plete.

In 2017, Alpine will launch a new pro­duc­tion sports car to stand above the rest of the Re­nault line-up. The aim is to em­body the DNA of the gi­antkilling orig­i­nals that took rally and cir­cuit rac­ing by storm in the 1960s and 70s.

At the mar­que’s 60th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions — in the home town of Dieppe, France — Alpine CEO Bernard Ol­livier cites el­e­gant de­sign, light weight, com­fort and per­for­mance more suited to link­ing tight curves than au­to­bahn top speed as key parts of that DNA.

A less ag­gres­sive look than most per­for­mance mod­els is ex­pected to make Alpine more ap­peal­ing to women buy­ers and, un­like the past four gen­er­a­tions, the new model will be de­signed for global sales.

Sev­eral coun­tries showed in­ter­est in the ill-fated joint ven­ture with bou­tique Bri­tish sports car builder Cater­ham in 2012. This fell apart last year but the buyer in­ter­est con­vinced Re­nault that it could go one-out and still make a profit.

Ol­livier says there was suf­fi­cient in­ter­est to jus­tify de­vel­op­ing right-hand drive ver­sions, in ad­di­tion to the left­hand lay­out of its ex­pected big­gest mar­ket, France.

This also re­flects the sales suc­cess of the ex­ist­ing Re­nault Sport mod­els in right-hand drive mar­kets of Ja­pan, Aus­tralia and Bri­tain, with the only left-hand mar­kets in the RS top five be­ing France and Ger­many.

“We could not af­ford to ig­nore mar­kets like Aus­tralia and Ja­pan. We know it’s im­por­tant,” says Ol­livier.

“This is the rea­son [Aus­tralian media] are here. There is some strat­egy in show­ing you the story of Alpine.” How­ever Re­nault Aus­tralia boss Justin Ho­ce­var warns that Alpine is yet to get the green light from lo­cal prod­uct plan­ners.

Ol­livier says the new model has been gone fur­ther up the price scale since Cater­ham’s de­par­ture but is guarded on the fi­nal fig­ure.

“It is dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand what the value of Alpine is, how much cus­tomers are will­ing to pay for Alpine com­pared with Porsche, BMW etc,” he says.

“We can­not make the mis­take of it be­ing too ex­pen­sive. We know that Alpine does not have the same im­age as Porsche.”

This may trans­late to some­where more than the $74,990 Lo­tus Elise, $89,000 Alfa Romeo 4C or $106,200 Porsche Cay­man start­ing prices or even closer to the $149,900 BMW M4 coupe — but less than the $208,200 en­try price for a Porsche 911.

The Dieppe plant will fi­nalise sup­pli­ers by the end of the month and start pro­duc­tion by the end of 2016.

Ini­tial de­liv­er­ies will be another mat­ter as Ol­livier wants to get the cars right rather than meet­ing a dead­line. “There will be no other car if my first car is not a suc­cess,” he says.

Ol­livier was re­spon­si­ble for cre­at­ing the now hugely suc­cess­ful Re­nault Sport hot hatch line in 2000 and is clear about Alpine’s point of dif­fer­ence.

“Re­nault Sport cus­tomers are gen­er­ally young and need one car that can do ev­ery­thing from the school run, to track days, su­per­mar­ket trips and va­ca­tions,” he says.

“An Alpine is dif­fer­ent. It is not for fam­ily but all about plea­sure. It is a sec­ond, third or fourth ve­hi­cle you do not need but want.”

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