16 Aug 2012

Is the Dacia Duster a game changer?

The Dacia Duster is a brand new car with a UK price of £7,995.  We look at the competition and investigate as to whether it will be a success.

In 1948 Land Rover brought us the first utility 4x4.  For the past six decades the Land Rover Defender has been the car of choice for people to whom luxury is being able to get from A to B without the convenience of there being a road in between.

The original Land Rover came with such features as seats, a steering wheel, some doors, a roof and  four wheel drive.  Over the years extras such as electric windows and more doors have been added but essentially the Land Rover Defender represents the basic format of a four wheel drive vehicle without anything frilly on top. Currently the cheapest Land Rover Defender in UK showrooms (with seating for at least four and with windows in the back) is £24,255.  The current average wage in the UK is £26,200.  And the taxman will take a chunk of that from you.

So for Mr or Mrs Average to buy the Defender they will need to save for 12 months and spend no money on food, housing, utilities, transport or anything else required to actually survive.

This may be a long introduction to the thrust of the article but my point is I have long thought that the price of a new car in the UK is unreasonably high compared to wages.

OK so Mr or Mrs Average on the average wage will not necessarily be looking to buy a brand new Land Rover to transport their 2.4 children.  But it is not unreasonable to think that in the UK with our extremes of weather where snow or floods can paralyse the country for days on end that families on a budget will want a reasonably sized car with off road capabilities for a reasonable price.

Right now if you want some semblance of size and capability in a car that can at least travel across a wet field the cars to go for would be a Nissan Qashqai, a Skoda Yeti or a Kia Sportage.  The cheapest Qashqai costs £16,950 on the road, the cheapest Yeti is £14,945 and the cheapest Sportage is £17,300.  At this juncture I should make two points - all of these are front wheel drive and these prices can be haggled down.

The UK no longer has a bargain brand which represents value for money and quality, reliable cars.  Kia, Daewoo et al are all aiming upwards and are competing with their Japanese and European competitors on quality, reliability, specification and pricing.

For an article about the Dacia Duster this is the first mention of the actual car.  But all of the above should be taken into context when bearing the following fact in mind.  The on the road list price of a brand new Dacia Duster in the UK is £8,995.

The Duster comes with five seats, a 1.6 litre, 105bhp petrol engine capable of 0-60 in 11.5 seconds and 40mpg.  It also features electric windows that go up and down, wheels, seats and comes in a variety of colours.

The above price is for the front wheel drive model.  The four wheel drive Duster costs £10,995.  And it  has good off road capability.  It weighs just 1250kg and the 4x4 comes with locking differentials.

Dacia is part of the Renault group.  They are Romanian and have been making cars since 1966 - largely based on Renault designs - for the local market and, by all accounts, they were appalling.  In 1999 Renault bought Dacia and ever since then the brand has been improved in terms of quality, refinement, reliability and design.  In 2010 Dacia sold 348,723 cars to the Eastern and Central European markets.

And now they are coming to the UK.  Renault dealers will sell the Duster.  Prices start at the aforementioned £8,995 and rise all the way up to a dizzying £14,995 for the top of the range1.5dCi Laureate.

Reviews have been mixed.  Some reviewers have compared the Duster directly with it's perceived rivals and bemoaned the ride quality, boomy engines and miserly equipment.  But that is beside the point.  Others have marvelled at what the Duster achieves at the price it achieves it at.  James May of Top Gear said, "This is a cheap car. It's also basic, not especially exciting, definitely not glamorous and I can't pretend it gives me the fizz. But it is in no way nasty. In fact, I think it might be a bit cool."

In that sentence James summarises why, to me, the Dacia Duster is a game changer in British motoring.   Most reviewers cannot see the potential market - but I can.

First off is anyone living in the countryside.  Anyone from the automotive industry who takes a trip outside London to the farther, wilder reaches of the country will note that a high proportion of cars in isolated communities are old Land Rovers and Suzuki SJ410s.  This is because they are cheap to own and will happily run across farm tracks, flooded lanes and out of snowed in driveways.

Next up is anyone who can come up with ten grand but doesn't want a secondhand Skoda or Nissan.  Why buy secondhand when you can have new?  And get a warranty thrown in.

We then come to people who just see value for money as a good thing.  The Duster is a car.  The Qashqai is a car.  They both have silly names.  They both accommodate five adults.  They both transport the occupants in reasonable comfort and with reasonable reliability but one costs £7,955 more than the other.  Is some extra refinement and a stereo worth £7,955?  I don't believe it is.

The final category is anyone with a sense of proportion.  UK new car prices are very high when compared with wages.  Most people who buy a new car themselves (as opposed to running a company car) do so on finance.  When the payments are 50% less for the Duster who wouldn't want one.

The Duster offers more refinement, crash protection, speed, equipment, reliability, build quality and mpg than most cars from the 70s and 80s.  The Dacia Duster doesn't represent quite the same leap forward as does a Skoda or a Kia but it does represent a far more attractive bang per buck.

I hope the Duster will transform the car market.  I believe we are asked to pay too much for our daily transport.  I believe most new cars come with a specification that outweighs the desires and needs of the people who are buying them.  The Duster is not a glamourous supercar but it does not need to be.  It brings affordable motoring to the masses in much the same way as the Model T Ford did back at the turn of the 20th century.  I believe Dacia will revolutionise a sector of the UK car market and I believe it can't come soon enough.

You can read more about the Duster at the UK website here.