PARIS - Renault has launched a new, longer version of the Espace minivan called the Grand Espace.
'We expect the Grand Espace will make up 15-20 percent of total Espace sales in Europe,' said Arnaud Morbieu, Renault marketing manager for the Espace and Safrane ranges.
The vehicle arrives at a key time for Matra, Renault's partner. Renault will build the next Espace itself, but the Grand Espace gives Matra more activity now at its plant in Romorantin, France.
The current version of the Espace, introduced in late 1996, regained second place in the European minivan market for Renault in 1997, behind the Volkswagen Sharan. The Espace had a 16 percent share of the segment last year.
'We should end 1997 with 59,000 units sold in Europe,' said Morbieu, who forecasts 60,000-65,000 sales in 1998. Since September 1997, Espace production has been at the maximum capacity of 350 units a day.
'For the first time in the history of the Espace, we had to use a third shift,' said Matra Automobile Chairman Philippe Guedon.
The Grand Espace is 270mm longer than the original Espace at 4780mm.
The extra length is intended to give passengers in the third row of seats extra headroom and legroom, more comfort and better visibility. The cargo volume is increased by 250 liters to 520-760 liters, with seven passengers. With just five passengers, the luggage capacity is 1,150-1,700 liters.
The Grand Espace can be equipped with either a 2.0-liter gasoline or 2.2-liter turbodiesel engine. In September it will be offered with the new Renault-PSA V-6 engine and automatic transmission.
Grand Espace models cost an average of FF14,000 ($2,300) more than the Espace.
Renault and Matra spent FF200 million ($32 million) to develop the Grand Espace.
The Grand Espace will help Matra, but it will not make up for losing the Espace volume itself.
Renault is taking the successor vehicle inhouse. It will likely build its future Espace on the same platform as the successors for its Laguna and Safrane sedans. Renault probably will build the new minivan at its Sandouville, France, plant.
'We have a few months before us to make the decisions regarding the Espace successor,' said Raymond Savoye, Renault vice president in charge of cooperation with Matra.
Matra will look for a vehicle to replace the Espace, which probably involves finding another customer besides Renault.
Matra's Guedon thinks it will be another minivan.
'Within five years in Europe, you will see mini, medium and upper minivans appearing,' he said. 'We must stay in this segment in which we have been so successful.'