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Geneva show: Renault Alpine sports takes shape

Beast: The Alpine A110-50 concept is not representative of the production car but a ‘monster’ designed to attract maximum attention.

No Toyobaru style twins to emerge from Alpine-reviving Renault-Caterham JV

6 Mar 2013


ALPINE and Caterham will not create twin sportscars like Toyota and Subaru, but the co-developed two-seaters will make the most of a philosophy shared by both brands – high power to weight ratio and driving pleasure.

All clues point to the Renault-owned Alpine side of the operation doing what Mazda did with the original MX-5, creating a modern interpretation of the Lotus Elan, but applied to the iconic Alpine A110 of the 1960s and 70s.

In addition to performance and handling, styling is high on the list of priorities for Alpine, according to Renault senior vice president of design Laurens van den Acker.

“Alpines were always beautiful and that’s what made them different from other sportscars of their type,” he told Australian media at the Geneva motor show.

“It will be hopefully quite an exceptional car, we are trying to give it all the key values of Alpine lightness, elegance... I am talking about the A110, there is something about that car, it is more than a nice sportscar so we tried to capture that.

“I think the reason people left their wives, girlfriends and families to work at Renault was the A110.”

35 center imageLeft: Renault senior vice president of design Laurens van den Acker.

Mr Van den Acker was adamant there would be a distinct separation of the Alpine and Caterham products.

“Caterham have their own team, so of course we work together and we need to share a lot of things but design is going to make a difference – we cannot do what Toyota and Subaru did. That’s impossible.”

Renault wheeled out the monstrous Alpine A110-50 concept car at last year’s Monaco Grand Prix, with styling drawing from Renault’s 2010 DeZir design concept but Mr Van den Acker described that car as “a monster” designed to attract maximum attention and too big to preview a production Alpine.

However he said the production car’s styling “is not going to be a complete surprise”.

“People have been dreaming that we will give them an A110 with a twist. I can’t just give them a straight copy because then you satisfy the 500 fans who are out there and once they have it your market is dead.

“We need to make it modern and appeal to people who have never thought about buying a sportscar... we need to modernise it, we need to make it relevant to people (and) we should capture the expression of the (original) vehicle.”

Head of the Alpine project, Bernard Olivier would not comment on the body construction, engine placement or whether the sportscar would be rear-wheel drive or front-drive but said the cars would be in the spirit of Alpine.

Alpines were traditionally based on a tubular steel backbone chassis (the new car is confirmed to use aluminium) clothed in lightweight fibreglass bodywork and powered by rear-mounted Renault engines.

“There are many solutions but the only result that is important is pleasure in short bends,” said Mr Olivier.

He cited a price range of between €50,000 and €70,000 ($A64-89K) and that around 25,000 cars would be sold within the duration of the project, with the first 5000 sold quickly as is the way with new sportscars – although he said image was stronger than volume.

For comparison, around 30,000 Alpines were sold between 1962 and 1995.

Distancing the Alpine brand from safety conscious Renault, Mr Olivier said it will not have the same safety focus as Renault, pointing out that no Porsche sportscar has a Euro NCAP rating.

He did not expect Alpine or Caterham customers to take a safety rating into account when purchasing.

“It does not mean safety is not important, it means it is different. It is not the expectation of the customer to know how many stars.

“Of course the car will be safe and especially in dynamic driving but I think this kind of customer is not looking for five stars.”

Interestingly, Mr Olivier expected a lot of customers to come from Porsche but said it is difficult to find competition at the same position as Alpine, citing Lotus as the only other “serious” sportscar maker but dismissing the British brand on grounds of product quality.

Mr Olivier said that although the brand will trade on its heritage, factors like light weight that result in both low emissions and fun at legal speeds fulfil modern requirements.

“These are the future of customer choices,” he said.

Unsurprisingly given the joint-venture with British company Caterham, Mr Olivier was emphatic that the Alpine will be produced in right-hand drive and said the brand has world-wide ambitions – including Australia.

He said three years was plenty of time to come up with an efficient way of distributing the cars globally while building brand awareness by referencing its history and motorsport successes.

After three years of brand building, Mr Olivier said the “car will be in the brand” rather than “the brand being in the car”.

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