13 Oct 2012

Will Caterham and Renault make road cars together?

It looks as if Caterham and Renault are about to enter into a tie-up to make road cars.  Auto Express have reported that the announcement is due to be released in early November and involves both Renault and Caterham releasing sportscars on a common architecture.

If you start to look elsewhere you'll see other information that points to something happening between Renault and Caterham.

Of the three new teams who entered F1 three years ago only Caterham has a Renault engine, the other two - Marussia and HRT - still use Cosworth power plants.  Also, on 23 September, the Deputy Managing Director of Renault Sport F1, Cyril Abiteboul, was announced as Caterham F1's new CEO; taking control of all on and off track operations and reporting directly to Riad Asmat and Tony Fernandes.

Abiteboul has been with Renault since 2001, initially as Business Development Manager and, latterly, as Executive Director of Renaultsport F1 and then onto his role as MD.

At the time Tony Fernandes said this of Abiteboul's move: “As CEO he will lead our F1 operation and will work closely with Riad, who can now turn his full attention to the continuing growth of the wider Caterham Group which is already active in the automotive, aerospace and marine industries. Cyril will also strengthen the excellent relationship that we have with Renault, particularly as we work towards the introduction of the new engine regulations in 2014 when engines will play an even greater role in overall car performance.

Also, in an interview with Car magazine's September issue, Tony Fernandez said: "...the company has to evolve and I think people will be OK with that.  We're not in the business of making 600 cars a year."

And then on 8 October Mike Gascoyne (who's rather long job title is Caterham Group Technical Officer and CEO of Caterham Technology and Caterham Composites) tweeted "Back at work in Hingham, road car project team settled in and working on a really exciting project to be announced soon"

Put it all together and it becomes pretty obvious - Caterham and Renault will work together on a series of road cars.

So, what can the two companies do for each other?  As an engine supplier to F1 teams Renault has limited access to F1 thinking and technology.  Caterham F1, on the other hand, have to evolve or die.  Tie that in with Tony Fernandes massive enthusiasm and ambition for the small car company he only bought in April 2011 and you can see the benefits for both.

Caterham needs to produce a much wider range of cars than they currently do and they need to sell more cars than they currently do.  Renault will benefit from Caterham's technology and F1 know-how. The Caterham name isn't a massively evocative one (derived as they are from building Lotus 7 replicas)  but Renault must know what they are doing and obviously believe they will benefit from the liaison.

Renault revived the Alpine brand, with whom they have a history going back to 1922, in 2007.  They initially announced Alpine cars would be produced in 2010 but canceled that.  Then in April this year Renault showed the Alpine concept A110-50 to the world.

The revival of the Alpine brand (which is a massively evocative name) and the proposed liaison between Caterham cannot be coincidence.

This looks like being an exciting time for Renault, Caterham and Alpine.  We look forward to the announcement and further details.