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Renault fortifies Oz commitment

Coming: Renault's Fluence is set to fill the shoes vacated by the Megane sedan in Australia.

Asia-Pacific boss maps out French brand’s growth plans in Australia

Renault logo29 Mar 2010

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

RENAULT says its commitment to Australia is set in stone with the release of a completely overhauled mainstream model range over the next 24 months featuring keener pricing and improved specification to better fit consumers’ demands.

A focus on keeping the iconic Renaultsport performance brand up-to-date and in the limelight with models such as the Clio RS Cup 200 and upcoming Megane RS 250 Coupe is also a priority.

Together, these will raise sales, market share, brand awareness, and buyer confidence, Renault believes, while the increased activity will help make the current 20-strong national dealer network more viable as a result.

Overseeing everything will be the recently reorganised Renault Australia management, which includes a new sales boss (and former Nissan marketing veteran Shane Dunemann), as well as an area operations manager for Australia (and New Zealand, New Caledonia and French Polynesia), Sylvain Martin-Villa, who breaks Renault tradition by being based in Melbourne.

But the French car-maker will not introduce its highly publicised zero emissions electric vehicle range mooted for Europe from this year into Australia for the time being, while the mainstream Clio models will remain absent from the key light car segment due to their inherent high manufacturing and sourcing costs.

 center image From top: Renault Australia managing director Rudi Koenig, Renault Twizy ZE Concept, Renault Kangoo ZE Concept and Renault Megane hatch.

Speaking to GoAuto at the launch last week of the facelifted Clio Renaultsport range, Renault’s Asia Pacific director Xavier Casin said that the company’s future has been mapped out to appeal to Australians like never before.

“I hope you understand the commitment that Renault has for Australia,” Mr Casin said.

“I’m asking you to trust me that in 2011 other new vehicles will come on board (as well as the several arriving this year). We are moving in a very positive direction, and that this momentum is being launched today with the new Clio Renaultsport range, and will go through into next year with a completely renewed range.

“Also, having Sylvain (based in Australia) helps the local team to help develop the business over here.

“It is a good way for us to show our commitment to the Australian market, and show that we are bringing cars that the customers are expecting ... the Clio Renaultsport Cup (for example) is being imported as the one Cup model because that is what the customers have been asking for.

“So there is no compromise for what is needed for the Australian market – which is a demanding market, and a difficult one for a brand like Renault that is very European orientated with diesel and manual transmission when buyers tend to go more for gasoline and automatic cars.

“For us it has been important to come into the country and get the knowledge and know what the customer will have, and for us to make the right choices to meet the requirements of the customers.” Besides the Clio Renaultsport, this year will see the release of a lightly revised Koleos, the revamped Trafic medium van range, the all-new Kangoo light commercial vehicle and the return of the Megane hatch in both mainstream, CC coupe convertible and Renaultsport three-door hot-hatch guises. The Megane-like Fluence sedan will also replace the now-discontinued X84 Megane sedan by the end of the year.

With the exception of the Laguna (which continues to languish in Australia with very poor sales), Megane CC, commercial vehicles and Renaultsport cars (which are built in France), all mainstream Renault passenger vehicles for Australia will be sourced from low-cost countries like Turkey (Megane hatch) and South Korea (Nissan/Samsung-based Fluence) to keep prices low and sales high.

Samsung has been supplying the company’s Koleos compact SUV to all global markets since that model’s launch in 2008.

However, until Renault announces a shift in the manufacturing of the Clio from France to a cheaper site like Asia or India, it will be locked out of one of the biggest segments in Australia, the light car class.

“There are no plans for smaller cars below the Megane (and Clio Renaultsport) in Australia. We haven’t found any profitability bringing the normal Clio in, so we will concentrate only on larger cars,” Mr Casin said.

“It’s about bringing the right products in the right time with vehicles that are right for Australia. And, for sure, it is a big market for Renault – with one million vehicles sales each year.” For 2010 Renault forecasts a 10 per cent hike in sales. Last year, Renault sales slid 24 per cent to 2400 units – down from 3191 in 2008. Only the Koleos posted any meaningful volume, with 1016 units.

“Considering the average performance we have had in the past year, we did have had some success with the Koleos,” Mr Casin said.

“It has reached a volume that we have not had for some time with just one vehicle, and will continue to be the most important vehicle for us this year. It is a good first step to regain interest (in Renault vehicles).

“Another is the interest that Australian customers have in the Renaultsport range. It is unlike in any other Asia Pacific countries in that we do not have any automatic or double clutch gearbox in Renaultsport vehicles, and this is an issue in places like Japan and Singapore.

“Luckily, even though the Australian market is very much automatic orientated, there really are big numbers of Renaultsport fans … and we will keep them in the latest models available in the Renaultsport range.” But as far as getting in on the green movement is concerned, Mr Casin believes that Renault cannot commit Australia to its EV electric car program without Australian government incentives.

“We would be very happy to sell EVs in Australia, he said.

“But the EV scheme is linked to what local governments are giving in terms of incentives, and to date there are agreements around the world with either Renault or Alliance partner Nissan. But the thing, if there are no local incentives for this type of vehicle, then it does not make the business case worthwhile for Renault (in Australia). And we have the cars already – the Fluence and Kangoo EVs – and both would be perfect for Australia.”

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