DIEPPE, France -- For enthusiasts, Maranello, Italy and Stuttgart, Germany evoke images of high-performance sports cars from Ferrari and Porsche. Could Dieppe, France, someday join their ranks?
Dieppe, a small coastal town in Normandy, is the birthplace of Renault’s Alpine brand, which has restarted production after a 20-year break.
Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn, with French economic minister Bruno Le Maire, inaugurated the production line for the new A110 last week. It was a big day for Renault, which now has a premium, mid-engine sports car to compete with Porsche’s Cayman and the Alfa Romeo 4C.
It was an equally significant event for Dieppe, which is among the poorest communities in the Normandy region of northwest France. In the past two years 150 workers have been hired at the Alpine plant, increasing the workforce to about 400 people, and 36 million euros ($42 million) have been invested, some of that amount from the governments of France and Normandy. Signs proclaiming "Alpine Made in Dieppe" greet visitors to the town, and "Alpine Is Back" banners hang inside and outside the plant.
Aluminum line 'unique'
Among the improvements are a new paint shop and robots to help assemble the A110’s extruded-and-cast aluminum structure and sand and clean the paint finish. Employees have undergone an extensive training program to ensure that A110s are built to standards expected of premium sports cars. Renault says it is the only factory in Europe building cars with aluminum bodies and chassis, with most of the attachment points being bonded or riveted rather than welded, to save weight.
"We didn’t choose this site to build the new Alpine for nostalgia," Ghosn said to applause from employees clad in blue work suits. Alpine was founded in Dieppe in 1955 by Jean Redele, a Renault dealer who started by modifying stock models then began selling his own sports cars in the late 1950s. Alpine cemented its reputation with the original A110, from 1963, which won several rally championships.
Renault acquired the company and the factory in 1973. After the last Alpine model, the A610, rolled off the line in 1995, the plant has been used for low-volume Renault models like right-hand-drive Clios and Renault Sport versions and even electric Bollore BlueCars.
The factory, in an industrial area just off the seaport, retains its low-tech appearance from the late 1960s, when Redele constructed it. Just 80 workers are now involved in assembling the A110, largely by hand, using aluminum body panels from a supplier in Italy and turbocharged 1.8-liter engines developed with alliance partner Nissan.