MONTE CARLO -- Renault will replace its Espace large minivan with an SUV-styled crossover, the automaker's design chief, Laurens van den Acker, said. The Espace successor will combine minivan and SUV characteristics to make it more relevant in the marketplace, van den Acker said at a press event here.
Customers in Europe are switching from minivans and hatchbacks to crossover models, attracted by their SUV looks and high driving positions.
Renault's first-generation Espace was the forerunner in Europe's minivan segment when it launched in 1984. Sales of the current model, introduced in 2002, are falling due to the vehicle's age. Through April, Renault has sold 3,014 units of the Espace in Europe, down 35 percent from the same period last year, according to market researcher JATO Dynamics.
A concept version of the new Espace likely will debut at the Frankfurt auto show in September.
The new model will have hign-end features as part of Renault's push to move its larger cars upmarket.
"The Espace is a respected vehicle. It is one Renault you'd likely see on a driveway alongside a Volkswagen or a Mercedes but we've let it live for too long," van den Acker said.
'Not as brutal' looking
Renault's concept car director, Axel Breun, said the next Espace will not have aggressive styling like some SUVs. "The design is not as brutal as today's cars. They are becoming very military, which might be OK for the Evoque or Range Rover but it's maybe not the direction we are going," he said.
The Espace will be functional but at the same time it will be a vehicle that the occupants will "enjoy traveling in, with a good view," Breun said.