Alpine, the iconic French sports car and motorsport brand revitalised under the stewardship of Renault, will make a bold entrance to the Australian market in 2017.
The first of the new Alpine (pronounced Al-Peen) cars will be a two-door coupe that embodies the brand tenets of lightness — around 1000kg — compact dimensions, feminine “French elegance” as well as a focus on everyday drivability and a reasonable price-tag, which the company stubbornly refuses to be drawn on any further.
Production of right-hand drive versions is confirmed, and will in fact commence at the same time as the LHD versions, meaning a quick arrival in Australia. Alpines will be made, partially by hand assembly, on the same French assembly line as the Clio RS.
The Alpine will use an existing Renault/Nissan drivetrain retuned — to keeps costs down, something original Alpines also did — and from a design perspective resemble the Celebration concept shown in June (pictured above and below), which itself harks to the most famous Alpine of all, the A110 Berlinette (pictured at bottom). This, despite the final design not yet officially being signed off.
Ever more details are emerging on the reborn coupe that will mark Alpine’s return to the world production road car stage, after an absence of more than two decades. Its last car, the acclaimed A610, was discontinued after slow sales in 1995. Just 818 units were made.
Alpine has said it is perfectly willing to take its time getting the car right. This week, CEO Bernard Ollivier told us that the car would not actually go on sale until 2017, and admitted the now-dead arrangement with Caterham at the program’s beginning had set it back.
“There will be no other [Alpine] car if my first car is not a success,” he said, dramatically.
However, the company also committed to a start of production in Dieppe, where it makes the Clio RS, by the end of 2016. This points to a world premiere, ahead of production and market launch, at next year’s Paris motor show in about 12 months time.
Renault’s plant in the French coastal city of Dieppe has plenty of room to scale up, given its output of 30 Clio RS models and 10 Bollore city EVs is about 20 per cent of its capacity. The Dieppe plant will assemble about 3000-4000 Alpines annually on the same line as the Clio RS, partially by hand, and each unit will take about 50 hours to complete.
Even more interestingly, about half of all the Clio RS cars that Dieppe makes are right-hand-drive, given that car’s popularity in Australia, the UK and Japan. Alpine says the RHD version of its coupe will commence production at the same time as the LHD versions for Europe.
The Dieppe link also helps fuel speculation. Out the back of the factory are rows of crates, marked Japan, carrying the Nissan-made 147kW 1.6-litre turbo-petrol used in the Clio RS, and which would seem a good candidate for the lighter, compact Alpine.
It is unclear if the production car will follow its ancestors and be mid-rear engined, though, given the focus on legacy, it seems a strong likelihood. It will use a modified existing Renault architecture, though the company definitely said it won’t be a Clio platform (as we know it, anyway).
Questions remain. Will there be a manual gearbox, or will it be dual-clutch-auto with paddles like the Clio RS? And how much will it cost? Ollivier played coy with reporters on the first two questions, though he was more than happy to expand on the third.
“Our challenge is difficult, trying to relaunch after more than 20 years, [it is] difficult to understand the right value of Alpine. How much does the consumer pay against Alfa Romeo, Porsche, BMW… We cannot make a mistake for that. If our car is too expensive it will be difficult,” he said.
Ollivier earlier referenced the Alfa Romeo 4C and Porsche Cayman, though it is unclear if the price will match this pair. It appears unlikely, though Alpine had a famous racing rivalry with Porsche in its heyday.
“We know Alpine today is not Porsche, of course. Our challenge is to explain our strong point,” he said.