BRUCE GAIN

With Tavares no longer involved, Renault divorces Alpine partner

Renault unveiled the Alpine A110-50 concept car on the sidelines of the 2012 Monaco F1 Grand Prix. The car is powered by a 400-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 engine mounted in a mid-rear position.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Olivier Anrigo
Bruce Gain is an Automotive News Europe correspondent in France.
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Renault appears to be scaling back its ambitions for the sporty Alpine subbrand but the project will still go ahead, a source familiar with the development work told me.

Renault has ended its partnership with UK sports car maker Caterham, its Formula One racing partner, to revive Alpine but "it's an amicable divorce,” the source said.

The termination will not affect the 300 workers tied to the project at the Dieppe, France, factory, where Renault makes the Clio and Clio RS.

The departure of Carlos Tavares, Renault’s former chief operating officer who is now PSA/Peugeot-Citroen CEO, had cast doubt on the company’s continued commitment to Alpine.

An avid racecar driver, Tavares was passionate about breathing more life into the Renault brand by bringing back the famous sports car, but he likely had a different vision of what Alpine could be, compared with CEO Carlos Ghosn's agenda, according to Carlos Da Silva, an analyst at IHS Automotive.

"Without Tavares, the equation becomes all the more complex," Da Silva said. He believes there is a 50 percent probability that Renault could kill the project. If it does go through, it could “really turn into something substantially different from the fantasized A110 rebirth,” he said.

Reports have said that Ghosn was not happy when Caterham Chairman Tony Fernandes talked about expanding the partnership to develop a Range Rover Evoque rival and a sporty city car for Asian markets.

Renault says the project remains on schedule and that an Alpine model will launch in 2016 as planned. Renault’s existing F1 agreements with Caterham will remain in place, which includes the supply of engines and technology to Caterham’s F1 team, the Renault source said.

It seems that the only car that Renault will launch badged as an Alpine will be a small sports model to compete against the vehicles such as the Toyota GT86 and Audi TT.

Like Nissan’s sports car flagship, the GTR, Alpine could have business value as a marketing tool, even if it only brings a few thousand sales a year.

Renault stopped building Alpines in 1995 after four decades because of poor profitability. Sales peaked at about 2,000 cars a year in the 1980s. Reviving the subbrand could cost up to 1 billion euros, according to a 2012 estimate from Bankhaus Metzler.

“As a business case, Alpine was, is, and will remain a difficult one,” Da Silva said.

You can reach Bruce Gain at bgain@crain.com.

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