When the international petrol crisis struck Europe in the early 1970s, one of the sectors hardest hit was the specialist car manufacturing market. Car models that had been born out of World War II and had taken off in the heady days of the 1960s were now facing a crisis of confidence.
Having won racing tournaments and fans across Europe, one such example was the Alpine sports car in France. With sales down by nearly a third as a result of the rising fuel crisis, the beloved brand was eventually bailed out by French mega manufacturer Renault. Attempts to revive the popular model proved futile and Renault eventually shut the brand down in 1995, 40 years after it was founded by Jean Rédélé.
Fast forward to the new millennium and Renault is now facing some even bigger challenges of its own. Fuel prices are constantly threatening to rise even further, its global sales are down 6.3 percent — with Europe slumping 18 percent — and its major shareholder, the French government, is putting pressure on Renault to protect local jobs by raising production.
In the midst of these growing troubles, the Middle East is a beacon of good news for the French manufacturer. In addition, the Alpine is now firmly back on its agenda and part of the firm’s masterplan is to become the biggest European carmaker in the region.
“Alpine is a very nice opportunity,” a smiling Carlos Tavares, chief operating officer at Renault, says as he sits down for a chat in Dubai. “If everything goes well, probably by late 2015 or early 2016 [it will be on the road in the Middle East],” he confirms.
“We had this sports brand in our company and when I came back from Nissan eighteen months ago that was a big opportunity for us to create, or recreate, and give rebirth to the sports car brand Alpine.”
There is still a large network of Alpine enthusiasts clubs across France and in the UK, the US, Australia and Japan. Last year, Renault formally announced that plans had moved into the fast lane and it had signed a partnership with old-school British manufacturer Caterham Cars to bring Alpine back to the market.
“We have created a specific 50:50 joint venture to develop both the Alpine cars and Caterham cars and share a number of investments in terms of technology, platforms, etc, which will make the sustainability of this brand much stronger than it was before.
“Because I am spending so much time with them on the design studio I can tell you the car is outstanding and we want to give our engineers an appropriate lead time to do an outstanding job. The car is coming up quite nicely,” he says.
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