The production-ready Vel Satis unveiled in Geneva is Renault's latest effort to break into the medium-luxury segment dominated by German brands.
When Vel Satis goes on sale in early 2002, it will be much larger and substantially more upscale than the Safrane it replaces, said Louis Schweitzer, chairman of Renault.
The styling of the Vel Satis is deliberately distinctive. Renault did not want the car to look like the larger but more conservatively styled German cars that currently dominate the medium-luxury segment. European sales in the segment were almost 600,000 units last year.
But the medium-luxury segment is a tough one for southern European entries. The top three sellers last year were the Mercedes-Benz E Class, BMW 5 series and Audi A6, all with sales above 100,000 units. The next four spots belonged to the Volvo S70/V70, Saab 9-5, Jaguar S-type and Volvo S80. The only two southern European cars in the top 10 of the segment last year were the Alfa Romeo 166 with 19,300 sales, and the Lancia Kappa with 8,168 sales.
Renault expects the Vel Satis to sell a total of 300,000 units in a life span from 2002 to 2008, Schweitzer said. That is an average of 50,000 units annually. It is higher than Safrane's volume of 21,335 in 1999 and 13,180 last year.
Renault has worked hard to limit development costs of the Vel Satis to e530 million so that it can be profitable at low volume, Schweitzer said.
The Vel Satis will be initially powered by either a 3.5-liter, 235hp gasoline V-6 or a 3.0-liter, 180hp diesel V-6. A four-cylinder engine will be available later.
'There will never be a V-8 engine in Vel Satis,' Schweitzer said, because it would be too heavy.
The Vel Satis will be one of three vehicles Reanult will build at its plant in Sandouville, France. The Laguna II is currently assembled there. The replacement for the Espace minivan will be added later.