Alpine's new sportscar will spearhead more models
TG gets the inside line on what the Renault's Cayman-rival really means
Renault Group boss Carlos Ghosn arrived at yesterday’s Alpine Vision reveal in Monaco trailed by a phalanx of cameras, popping flashes, and flustered minions. Most major politicians don’t have an entourage this attentive, but the fact that the grandest of grande fromages was here at all tells you what you need to know about how serious he is about reanimating Alpine.
"Why now?" I ask him. "Because of what has happened in the Group during the past five years. Renault is in a position today to build a brand patiently, from a solid base. We have a good financial platform to work from, so we can put in the necessary long-term investment."
In other words, Alpine’s funky new castle isn’t built on sand. This second concept, following last year’s Le Mans Celebration car, is very pretty and beautifully executed if a little too retrospective. But it’s also virtually identical to the real thing. "It is very – very – close to the production car," Ghosn insists. And that, TG.com can reveal, will rock up before the year’s end, though not at any motor show, ahead of a mid-2017 on-sale date. It’ll have an all-new, ultra lightweight chassis, currently being fine-tuned by RenaultSport, backed up by an all-new, four-cylinder turbocharged engine and seven-speed dual-clutch auto ’box. Target weight is around 1100kg, power output between 250 and 300bhp; Renault reckons there’s a sweet spot between Lotus’s track-oriented featherweights and Porsche’s heavier 718 Boxster.
For a company whose adventures in luxury have often ended in disaster, Ghosn isn’t shy about using the word ‘premium’, and the Vision’s cabin suggests a TT-like level of technical detail and material quality. There will be more to follow, too, an admission that caught the PR machine a little off-guard. "You can’t build a brand with one model," Ghosn concedes. "So we will start with this car, test the water, and move forward step-by-step."
Renault’s re-commitment to Formula One, following its recent majority acquisition of Lotus, is also part of the big picture. Ghosn insists that F1 is still a great way to push Renault in Asia and China in particular, and an Alpine sports car will help exemplify the technology transfer. So the presence yesterday of Cyril Abiteboul, boss of Renault’s rebooted F1 team, was no coincidence. "The connection is very real," he tells TG.com. "We are all part of the same family. We have talked a lot about tech transfer, and now we have a great platform to make it happen." On which note, all the aero work on the new Alpine is underneath, where a fully-flat underfloor and diffuser negate the need for bodily exrescences. "It’s not about high-speed downforce," Alpine’s design boss Antony Villain says. "We wanted something more playful. In some respects, this car will be more like a classic car in that you won’t have to be doing 150mph before your senses feel fully switched on."
The newly announced Alpine CEO is Michael van der Sande, a top Renault manager with stints at Aston Martin, Bentley and Tesla under his belt and an Alfa Romeo SZ on his drive-way. As the guy tasked with making it all happen, he is refreshingly clear about the challenges. ‘We have a car we think is really good,’ he says. ‘What we need to do now is focus on the execution and quality. We need to build the team, and make sure the network in each country is right: if we simply put an Alpine in the corner of every Renault dealer, we’re dead before we’ve even started. Awareness is currently low but great in quality where it exists. The car will be agile, lightweight and fast. It's a modern solution to a question lots of people are still asking."
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