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Monday 5th November 2012


RENAULT AND CATERHAM JOIN FORCES

50-50 share in new Alpine-Caterham sports car brand based in Alpine's Dieppe factory


Renault has confirmed that it is going into partnership with Caterham to develop a range of new sports cars to be built at the old Alpine plant in Dieppe under the branding 'Societe des Automobiles Alpine Caterham'. Alpine, currently 100 per cent owned by Renault, will go into an equal 50-50 partnership with the Caterham Group and, following an injection of state cash from the French and regional government, develop and build cars in Dieppe.

Alpine factory currently builds outgoing Clio 200
Alpine factory currently builds outgoing Clio 200
The Alpine factory had been kept alive as a development and production facility for the Renaultsport range of hot hatches and associated racing cars. Production of the outgoing Clio 200 was a Dieppe mainstay due to the car's wider track meaning it wouldn't fit down the standard Clio line. But with the controversial new model becoming a more mainstream product Dieppe was in danger of redundancy, the new deal throwing a lifeline to the 300-plus workers and securing the engineering know-how based on decades of building hot Renaults for both road and track. What must they be thinking in Hethel, just hours after Kimi Raikkonen took victory in a black and gold Renault-powered 'Lotus' F1 car...

Renault boss Carlos Ghosn said the partnership realises a "longstanding ambition", namely "the creation of a sports car with the Alpine DNA." Whether that means a production version of the Alpine A110-50 concept or not remains to be seen but Renault COO Carlos Tavares says it will "embody the very essence of Alpine" and "could become a reality within the next three or four years."

SP/300.R shows ambitions beyond Seven
SP/300.R shows ambitions beyond Seven
For Caterham's part Tony Fernandes gushed "I have not felt as excited about a new venture since I launched Air Asia in 2001" and that he wishes to replicate this business model to create "exciting, affordable products that marry our interests in F1 and technology". Dato Kamarudin Meranun, deputy chairman of Caterham Group, offered a more hardheaded view, saying, "Formula 1 was always our entry point into the car business. Our original plans to develop a partnership with Lotus were put aside with spectacular and well documented style but now we have a far better chance to develop Caterham Cars in partnership with Renault." Ouch.

Given that it has supplied its hybrid running gear from the Evora 414Eto Renault partner Nissan for the Infiniti Emerg-econcept you'd have to say this is an opportunity missedfor Lotus, especially given the apparent shared synergy between it and Alpine in terms of ethos, background and expertise. That said, there's probably only room for one production line in the partnership Dieppe and Hethel together would only have resulted in over capacity and a duplication of expertise. Chuck the French state aid into the equation and you can see why Dieppe was always going to be at the heart of the deal.

Alpine brand has great heritage
Alpine brand has great heritage
Caterham, keen to expand its road car product beyond dependence on the Seven range, seems a more logical fit and partnership with Alpine fills a gap between the grassroots, Seven-based range and the more high-tech, F1inspired SP/300.R.

Experienced in production of both mass-market models like the current Clio 200 and more specialist products like the old Megane R26.R, the Dieppe plant will be able to build cars in "large and small series", the press release going on to say that the "objective is for each company to launch its own vehicle in this market within the next three to four years." A GT86/BRZ style rebranded product for different markets then? It's too early to say but the fact the A110-50 concept was based on the racing chassis of Renault's Megane Trophy racer and was pleasingly old-school and back to basics (no hint of hybrids or any of that nonsense there!) suggests Alpine and Caterham share a similar philosophy. Caterham has long talked of a new road car range in the £40-£50K bracket, light in weight, minimalist and driver focused and earlier in the year new bossGraham MacDonald confirmed that this was still the plan. And now they might just have the means to see it through.

A110-50 concept a raw, back to basics supercar
A110-50 concept a raw, back to basics supercar
Exciting times. Unless you live in Norfolk.

 

Author: Dan Trent
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