RENAULT plans to bring in a cut-price compact soft-roader to sit beneath its Koleos SUV.
The French car maker is in the midst of a restructure that aims to get the company back on track after several years of poor sales.
Justin Hocevar, the former head of Mini in Australia and the man now charged with helping Renault reshape itself, says the car maker will leverage several other ‘‘assets’’ in the group to expand its showroom presence in Australia and help get cheaper, European-sourced cars into the market.
Hocevar says one of the cars under close scrutiny for the Australian market is the Duster, a compact soft-roader built by Renault’s Romanian subsidiary Dacia.
The Australian arm of Renault is interested in the Nissan Micra-based Duster because of its relatively strong performance in Europe since its launch there earlier this year. However, if it comes to Australia it is likely to wear a Renault logo rather than expand Australia’s already bulging-at-the-seams mix of car maker’s badges.
The Duster sold in Europe uses either a 1.5-litre diesel engine or 1.6-litre petrol version, mated to either a five-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission. It also comes in front-drive and all-wheel-drive versions.
Renault has previously looked at introducing the Dacia Sandero, a compact hatchback also based on the Nissan Micra platform, suggesting pricing could start as low as $10,000. It has also moved production of its Megane hatch and Fluence sedan to lower cost production facilities.
But the move to bring in low-cost models raises questions about Renault’s hitherto impeccable reputation for five-star crash protection. The only two Dacia models tested by Euro NCAP, the Sandero and Logan, both scored just three stars. Renault has long boasted about the fact that its entire line-up gets a five-star crash rating.
The Koleos sells in modest numbers, but remains the strongest-selling Renault in Australia, and helped the company limp through the effects of last year’s global financial crisis.
The move to bring in the Duster may also help Renault get the jump on its Japanese business partner, Nissan, which is still undecided about bringing in its more youthful-looking Juke.
Nissan has already had several false starts with the Juke, which shares the Duster’s platform. The Japanese maker sees the compact soft-roader as a brand-builder for the company, but is struggling to find a workable business case to justify importing it.
Hocevar also confirmed that Renault would take a close look at the Laguna coupe, a svelte two-door, all-wheel-steering version of the lacklustre sedan, with an evaluation model due to arrive on our shores soon.
If the coupe version arrives, Hocevar says it will act as a halo model for the brand in a similar way that its RenaultSport Megane 250 builds excitement for the more pedestrian members of the Megane hatchback family.
Hocevar says the maker is determined to make an impact on the mainstream after years of dwelling on the fringes.
He says that although the car maker invested ‘‘tens of millions’’ of dollars attempting to set up the Renault brand here since 2001 - with little success - the ‘‘slate has been wiped clean’’ and the company now aims to rebuild itself over a five-year transformation process.
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