TOULOUSE, France - Renault plans to almost double production of diesel engines next year following the dramatic rise in diesel sales across western Europe.
Fuel-price increases and new, economical, high-tech engines have boosted the popularity of diesels in the first nine months of 2000. Diesel-engined models now make up 32 percent of western Europe's new-car market, up from 27 per cent in 1999.
'This increase has taken everyone by surprise,' said Pierre-Alain de Smedt, Renault's executive vice president for engineering, manufacturing and purchasing. 'We are planning to increase diesel engine production from 850,000 units this year to 1.4 million in 2001.'
That means diesels will make up almost 50 percent of Renault's total engine production next year.
Speaking here at the launch of the new Renault Laguna, de Smedt said 50 percent of orders for new Renault Clios are already for diesel-engined versions - up from just 15 percent a year ago.
He said a new, small 1.5-liter common-rail diesel engine developed with Delphi Automotive Systems would be launched in mid-2001.
De Smedt said Renault has just signed a contract with Robert Bosch to guarantee an increased supply of common-rail injectors.
He said Renault's modern diesels offer high performance levels and are much quieter than traditional diesels. He said these factors were creating demand for diesels, as much as high fuel prices and tax advantages.
'We have seen big increases in demand in Spain, France and Germany,' said de Smedt. 'So far this year in those three countries diesel demand across the Renault range is running at 30 percent, up from 10 to 15 percent [in 1999]. Better performance and better economy - for the consumer it is a no-brainer.'
Renault is investing E1 billion in fuel cell technology through to 2005, but de Smedt said he did not think there would be significant volumes in this area until 2010.
'It will be interesting to see how technology has moved on by that time,' he said. 'The conventional internal combustion engine may be cheaper, cleaner and more fuel efficient by then.'
De Smedt also said a decision on the future of Nissan's plant at Sunderland, England, was dependent on two factors - whether the European Commission decides to approve UK government grants, and the strength of sterling against the euro.
'Once that has been decided we would like to specialize Sunderland as a one-platform plant with four to five body styles and both brands [Renault and Nissan],' said de Smedt. Renault bought 37 percent of Japan's Nissan last year.
Sunderland already builds the lower-medium Nissan Almera. As an example of de Renault's plans, Sunderland could lose the smaller Micra and bigger Primera, but gain the Renault Megane. Renault has said future Megane- and Almera-sized models will share the same platform.