PARIS -- Renault plans to move more production of its Clio subcompact car to Turkey, company and industry sources told Reuters.
The shift is likely to be the start of a domestic manufacturing phase-out for the brand's top-selling model, a move that would be politically sensitive in France.
Currently, Renault builds the Clio in Flins, France; Novo Mesto, Slovenia; and Bursa Turkey.
In future 94 percent of the Clios will be built in Bursa and Novo Mesto, according to one industry source, with the remaining 6 percent assembled at Flins. The Flins production probably would be only for the first 2-3 years of peak sales.
"Bursa will be the main plant for the new Clio, followed by Novo Mesto," said another source with knowledge of the plan. "Flins will top up production when those two sites can't meet demand."
In 2010, Renault scrapped plans to transfer all Clio production abroad after a showdown with the French government, its biggest shareholder. Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn was summoned for a dressing-down by Nicolas Sarkozy, then France's president. Renault was seeking to boost Clio sales in emerging markets such as Turkey and reduce production costs.
This time, lower Clio output in France will be offset by rising electric car production, blunting its political edge.
Flins accounted for about 15 percent of Clio output last year. It also builds the Zoe electric car and is in line for new electrified vehicle production, making the Clio transfer more palatable for unions and the state.
Reduced Clio output at Flins, expected to peak at 25,000 cars and tail off rapidly, may not be enough to justify the tooling investments required for full manufacturing. Instead, other Renault sites might ship pre-assembled "CKD" modules to a simplified Flins production line, two sources said.
The next Clio would combine bold interior changes to accommodate connected and autonomous technologies with gentler exterior styling tweaks that build on the current model's success, the French carmaker's design chief told Reuters. "At Renault we used to be in the habit of reinventing everything all the time," Laurens van den Acker said in a recent interview at the Geneva auto show. "So it's almost a little revolution to take a more German approach."
The next Clio is expected to get a hybrid version equipped with Renault's "Locobox" gasoline-electric transmission.
A Renault spokesman said no formal decision had been made on Clio production. "The work is still ongoing," he said. "Any comment on it would be incomplete, erroneous and premature."
The Clio is Renault's best-selling model in Europe with a volume of 325,137 last year, up 3.9 percent on 2016, according to market researchers JATO Dynamics.
The Clio has notched up 15 million sales over four generations since its 1990 launch and was Europe's second best-selling car last year after the Volkswagen Golf.