5 Nov 2012

Société des Automobiles Alpine Caterham - a brand new car company

Renault and Caterham are creating a new company called the Société des Automobiles Alpine Caterham which will produce a new sportscar with both Alpine and Caterham branding - and possibly a range of Caterham branded Renault's, much like the Renault Clio Williams.

As previously predicted, Renault and Caterham Group are to combine forces to create a new line of sports cars.  The cars will share the same DNA but will be released separately under the Alpine and Caterham names.

Tony Fernandes, who bought Caterham in April 2011, after falling out with Lotus, needs to strengthen both the brand and the line-up of cars it produces.  Renault desperately need to build more than just small and medium sized hatchbacks - a sector that Fiat recently admitted is very tough to make any money in.
Renault Mégane Renaultsport 265

High performance sportscars, on the other hand, are the most profitable cars in todays market for mass manufacturers.  With Renault owning the Alpine brand this is more than just a marriage of convenience - it is a marriage of necessity.

It will also help the joint venture that both companies have current F1 experience - Caterham on the chassis front and Renault as an engine builder.  How this will help the relationship with the company's in F1 remains to be seen.  As a small F1 team, Caterham would benefit massively from free Renault engines.

The cars will be built at the Alpine plant in Dieppe, France - where all Renault Sport cars are currently made.  What is interesting is that the new business was partly bankrolled by the French state - see below for more information on that.
Alpine A110

The press release talks about releasing a brand new sportscar, with separate Alpine and Caterham, branding (much like the Subaru BR-Z and Toyota GT86) in 3 or 4 years.  It then goes on to talk about making cars in small and large volumes.

From that statement we can assume the new sportscar will be the smaller volume production vehicle and that the large volume production will be existing Renault models that are constructed at the Alpine plant and branded as Caterhams - much like the Renault Clio Williams was.  Indeed this project may stymie the mooted Clio Williams project that was rumoured last month.

Below are some highlights from the joint press release issued by Renault Cars and Caterham Group.

  • The future vehicles will be distinctive, differentiated, and carry the respective DNA of Alpine and Caterham Cars, the automotive division of Caterham Group. They will be built at the Alpine plant in Dieppe, Normandy, in France
  • The Caterham Group will own a 50% stake in the Automobiles Alpine Renault company, currently 100% held by Renault SAS. The Société des Automobiles Alpine Caterham, that will result from this partnership, will be created in January 2013. It will be managed by Bernard Ollivier
  • This project, which ensures the Dieppe plant a sustainable future, was made possible thanks to the incentive and to the substantial support and commitment provided by the French State and the Région Haute Normandie which also involved the contribution of Dieppe Maritime
Tony Fernandes, Caterham Group Chairman, said: “I have not felt as excited about a new venture since I launched AirAsia in 2001 and I want to thank Carlos Ghosn and Carlos Tavares and everyone in our new Renault family for having the belief in Caterham Group to create this partnership. 

Carlos Tavares, COO Renault, said: “Our ambitions of reviving Alpine depended on our ability to find a partner in order to ensure the economic profitability of such an adventure. Right from the start, we wanted to place the Dieppe plant at the heart of the project. Today, through our partnership with Caterham Group, we can enter a new phase: the design of a car that will embody the very essence of Alpine, a vehicle that will rekindle sporting passion once more. It could become a reality within the next three or four years.”
Caterham F1 and road cars

Development Ambitions of the joint company:

Following a feasibility study on the joint development of a sports car conducted by Renault Sport Technologies and Caterham Technology & Innovation (CTI – the engineering and technology business of Caterham Group), Renault and Caterham will combine their skills to build models in large and small volumes, in order to widen their positioning on the sports car market. The objective for each company is to launch its own car in this market within the next three to four years.

Where the cars will be built - the Alpine plant in Dieppe, France:

The Dieppe plant will play a central role in the partnership between Renault and Caterham Group, at the heart of the sporting passion shared by the two partners. This is where the future sports cars of Renault and Caterham will be built. The project is a development opportunity for the Dieppe site, from the standpoint not only of production, but also the acquisition of a prized and unique expertise. The Alpine plant in Dieppe is currently dedicated to building the vehicles developed by Renault Sport Technologies, both production (Clio Renaultsport) and race models.

The Dieppe plant, built in 1969, is the historical home of the Alpine brand which gave birth to such legendary models as the Berlinette. Its core business is the assembly of sports cars, the assembly and sale of competition cars, and the sale of spare parts for competition cars, including at motor racing events. Its flexibility and ability to adapt are just two of the specific characteristics that enable it to produce vehicles in small runs. With a workforce of over 300 and a surface area of 76,000 m² of which 36,900 m² is built up, the plant has produced more than 400 000 vehicles since 1969.