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Alpine shapes up for Australia

Set to go: Alpine’s 21st century sportscar will roll down the same production line as the Clio RS in Diepe, with one in 10 of the hot hatches shipped to Australia.

Renault’s revived sportscar division, Alpine, promises quick kick-off for Oz

Renault logo14 Sep 2015

By RON HAMMERTON in PARIS

RENAULT’S born-again Alpine sub-brand is Australia-bound, with the boss of the resurrected sportscar manufacturer saying that Australia should account for a “not negligible” share of Alpine volume.

One day after skirting around the question of right-hand drive production and Australian sales, Alpine CEO Bernard Olliver on Sunday said production of right-hand-drive vehicles would start at the same time as left-hand drive, with Australia in line to get deliveries “quite soon” after the assembly line starts to roll.

While he cautioned that the production launch date would be “nothing before 2017” and could blow out by months if the development team needs more time to perfect the vehicle, a factory representative at the Dieppe plant told journalists that the target start date was late 2016.

The manager also disclosed that a component supplier convention for Alpine’s first own-brand vehicle in 20 years was scheduled for late this month, signalling the start of the pre-production process leading up to the vehicle’s launch.

Renault Australia managing director Justin Hocevar said an Alpine launch strategy for Australian had not been defined, with various models such as digital distribution and a small network of capital city dealerships to be examined and discussed with Renault’s partners.

He stopped short of definitively confirming Alpine for this market, saying: “Should it be made available to Australia, we would be quite interested.”

Renault Australia already takes delivery of 10 per cent of global Clio Renault Sport (RS) production, along with a large slice of Megane RS volume.

“We know RS is not Alpine, but based on that (Clio and Megane sales), hopefully we can get a good share,” Mr Hocevar said.

The unnamed Alpine sportscar will be run down the same assembly line as the Renault Clio RS at the boutique plant in Dieppe – the French coastal town that last weekend marked the 60th anniversary of Alpine’s birth there – even though the premium two-seater will take twice as long to build as the hot Clio.

Mr Olliver all but confirmed that the first Alpine model in 20 years will have a bespoke platform and “an Alpine engine”, but he declined to give details or to confirm a mid-engine layout.

He scotched suggestions that the Alpine car would share the Clio’s architecture, saying the Clio was “quite heavy”.

“The DNA of an Alpine is not the DNA of a Clio,” he said, adding that the Clio RS was usually bought by younger drivers who needed their vehicle to have four seats and “do everything” such as take the kids to school.

By contrast, the Alpine might be the owner’s third or fourth car and be bought simply for pleasure.

Unlike the three-door Clio that arrives at Dieppe from another Renault factory as a body-in-white with all the major steel panels stamped and welded in readiness to be painted and receive the powertrain and fittings, the Alpine car’s panels will be formed at the Alpine factory on new machinery being installed there.

Most pundits expect the Alpine to have a structure of aluminium to keep the weight down – a key goal of the design and engineering team.

Mr Olliver said the engine would be “fully adapted” to achieve the target power-to-weight-ratio, which he said was a signature of Alpine since its inception.

He said all the “tools” in the 21st century Alpine sportscar would be modern, most likely meaning a dual-clutch transmission could be the sole transmission choice.

That transmission is likely to be the same Getrag unit as the Clio RS, but perhaps with different ratios. The engine is also likely to be the same 1.6-litre turbo-charged, direct-inject four-cylinder as the Clio RS, but with tweaks to suit the Alpine’s car’s desired characteristics.

If the latest Alpine concept is any guide, the powertrain will sit sideways behind the seats as a form of transaxle driving the rear wheels, Alfa 4C style.

Alpine hopes to build 3000-4000 cars a year, but Mr Olliver said that the exact volume projections would be impossible to call.

“Volume is not our objective,” he said. “Of course, it will be important to be able to see Alpines on the road, but not too many, as we want Alpine to be exclusive.”

Mr Olliver said relaunching Alpine after 20 years made it difficult establish the value of the brand and thus set prices.

“Today, we are working on this,” he said.

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