The unveiling of the Renault Kadjar presents a surprising conundrum for the French brand in Australia.
The Nissan Qashqai-based mid-sized soft-roader is the latest model from the resurgent car maker and the third penned under the guidance of new design director Laurens van den Acker, following Clio and Captur.
The Kadjar has been designed to go head to head with the likes of the Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4, and with the sub-$60,000 medium SUV segment now the second-biggest in Australia behind small cars – accounting for more than 10 per cent of the total market in 2014 – its introduction to our market would seem a no-brainer.
But Renault Australia managing director Justin Hocevar says the decision is far from a simple one, and at this stage Kadjar is not part of the local division’s short-term plans.
“We’ve been looking at it for some time now,” Hocevar began. “Over the past couple of years we’ve been progressively doing the business case and it’s fair to say that over time our view wavers depending on how the various factors influence the business case.
“At this point in time it remains unconfirmed for Australia.”
Hocevar said much of the decision hinged on the positioning of Kadjar in relation to Renault’s other SUV’s: the mid-to-large Koleos (pictured below), and the pint-sized Captur (pictured above), which launches locally this week.
As with most baby SUVs, the Captur is expected to be priced from the low-$20,000s to around $30,000 before on-road costs (official pricing and specifications will be announced on Thursday), while the Koleos costs from $27,990 to $47,240 – leaving little room for a mid-sized model to slot in between.
“There is a fair degree of overlap in pricing, customer demographic and sales evolution in that medium [segment] and we think that at this point in time we’ve got the range well covered,” he said.
“Certainly we’ve been very strong in price and specification on Koleos so it kind of pushes it down towards the price of some of those [medium] SUVs and crossovers. Essentially we’re happy with what we’ve got.
“It’s really easy for us to look at it as kids in a lolly shop and go: ‘great-looking car, great segment, how good would it be to have that kind of three-car SUV line-up’. That’s probably the easy position to come up with at first, but we’ve had a very good plan over the past four years that continues out and we’re really keen to stick to the basic principles of that plan, and that’s trying to get our presence with core model lines up to a certain level before we try to expand our portfolio.”
Hocevar said Renault Australia was firmly committed to seeing out the current-generation Koleos, which is now entering its eighth year on sale in our market, and replacing it with the new-generation model, which is set to be larger than the current car, based on the underpinnings of the new Nissan X-Trail, and may get a new name when it’s unveiled, likely in 2016.
“Koleos and next-generation Koleos have sat very squarely in our plans for some time and we remain committed to that model line. We’ve got good clarity on that business case, we know it can work well for us, and to put something else in between means that we have to readdress that – which is not inconceivable, we could do that, but it could mean a deviation in the way we would have to price and spec Captur and Koleos.
“So it’s not just a case of saying: ‘bang, we’re going to slot it in the middle’, we would kind of have to reshuffle the other two to accommodate, and that has numerous impacts on the business in terms of our subsidiary and the dealer network, and particularly in the way we invest in our core models.
“We’ve then got to spread ourselves across three [SUVs] rather than two. We’re committed to Captur and Koleos.”
Asked if that meant that Australian customers would have to wait until after the introduction of the Koleos successor to get Kadjar, Hocevar said “not necessarily”, though he also acknowledged that repositioning the ageing Koleos to make room for Kadjar would also be a difficult proposition.
“Yeah, there are some brands that do have some good pricing overlap and customers will go either way, but we’ve seen the next-generation cars, we know what we’ve got coming, and we’re very pleased with the plans and the pricing of it so far.
“I wouldn’t like to see Koleos, existing or next-generation, pushed too high up in price. Some European brands have tried to leverage a higher price point for an upper-C or D-segment SUV and it tends to place them in a bit of no man’s land.
“We want to make sure that from a price and specifications point of view we’re playing with the premium end of mainstream. That’s where it’s important that Koleos, both existing and next-generation, are within that mix. That’s where we can win volume and volume’s important to our growth strategy.
“The introduction of Kadjar – should it ever happen – needs to be a good balanced approach that doesn’t see us become a jack of all trades and master of none.”
Having already seen the Koleos successor, Hocevar admits that it, along with Captur and Kadjar, form a unified and enviable crossover trio, confirming it’s a line-up he sees plenty of potential in.
“It’s a very cohesive line-up, it’s a strong line-up. I would imagine there are many companies that would love to have a B-, C-, D-[segment SUV] line-up that has an integrated design, a good development of their sophistication as you work up the model line.
“I think it’s fair to say that if we were in a different place in time in the Australian market, let’s say if our market share was larger, if our organisation and dealer network was larger and more mature, perhaps even if we had greater volume already with Koleos, if we were further down the track it would probably be quite a different position.
“But I still believe that we’re in a building block approach and I just don’t want to stack the building blocks too high too soon and put the business at jeopardy.
“Since Renault’s come back to Australia in 2000 and really had this concerted effort in the past four years, it’s important that we build in a sustainable manner and keep delivering on what we say we do and not get carried away and starry-eyed over too many products, because the reality is we’ve got a lot of choice, far more choice than we’ve had before, and we’ve got a lot more to come.”
Hocevar said he would be happy to see Kadjar in the local line-up if the time was right and the business case stacked up, but was equally confident of moving forward without it.
“The time could come, but equally – and this is where I have to put the conservative cap on – if Captur works to its potential and Koleos works to its potential and we’re doing everything right with those, we could equally go without Kadjar for a period of time, and reconsider it maybe for its next generation.
“So it’s still at that point where it could go either way and ultimately it’s unconfirmed.”