Renault’s Alpine division has dodged a bullet. Early this year there was speculation it would be shut. Now Renault boss Luca de Meo tells us it will spawn new variants of the A110, perhaps including an EV. Plus there will be Alpine versions of other Renaults. The renaming of Renault’s Formula One team as Alpine shows how the plan is serious.
Alpine’s future was looking distinctly shaky because however wonderful the A110 is as a car, it hasn’t been selling in big enough numbers to keep the Dieppe factory busy. Meanwhile Renault itself was in huge trouble. It couldn’t sell enough profitable medium and large cars, and factories were under used. And then Covid slammed it.
De Meo arrived into this crisis on 1 July. He looked around the entire company. One thing that struck him was the fractured sporting strategy. “We had three entities. A Formula One team. And RenaultSport, who didn’t have a precise role and were like a tribe of freaks, but very very competent. And Alpine with a half empty plant because the A110 had had a strong start but a quick fall in sales as all sportscars do.
“In a company with financial issues there was pressure to close Alpine,” de Meo says. “But I saw the possibility to combine those three things to create a mini-Ferrari if you’ll allow me the expression.”
So the A110 won’t die. “The A110 has a future. We need to manage the lifecycle like the Porsche 911.” That means lots of variants, introduced year by year to keep up the interest. “Maybe an electric version if there’s a business case, maybe with a partner.”
The A110 has a future. We need to manage the lifecycle like the Porsche 911
He goes back to his strategy at Seat. “Like I did at Cupra, we could partner Alpine with other Renault models.” Which sounds like effective replacements for the RenaultSport Clio and Megane. He shrugs and stresses a Kangoo Alpine isn’t on the agenda.
“Alpine is a brand with heritage. But we have to stop all this nostalgia and look to the future. Make the EV experience emotional. We have ideas.”
In the past he ran the Fiat brand, and was director of marketing at Audi. “I had Abarth and Audi Sport, but I never had this: a Formula One team, a plant like Dieppe, the brilliant engineering of RenaultSport.”
Distribution has been another hurdle for Alpine. “At first only 70 dealers out of 11,000 Renault dealers were allowed to sell it. I want to open it up.” But he’s not unrealistic in the face of rival companies. “It’s not easy. We’re not alone on the planet.”
The target is to break even in 3-4 years, for the whole of this new Alpine division including the F1 team operating under cheaper rules. He says his task was to bring confidence to Renault, a company where he reckons there’s a lot of talent. “We were just on the podium for the first race in 10 years. A little self-belief can change everything.”
STORY Paul Horrell