Renault Australia is giving renewed thought to launching the Dacia budget sub-brand in Australia in a few years time, potentially led by a next-generation version of the rugged Duster SUV due in 2016/17.
Should such an idea materialise, it could see a new brand name join the fray in Australia’s hugely competitive new car market. The cheap and cheerful Romanian products would likely be sold from dedicated Dacia dealers operating separate to Renault retail sites.
Dacia produces low-spec cars based on tried-and-true (in other words, old and superseded) Renault-Nissan architectures and as such, the company sells vehicles such as the Sandero, Logan and Duster at significantly less than equivalent-sized cars from mainstream brands.
The star of the show is the Duster, which is powered by a choice of three four-cylinder engines – 1.6- and 2.0-litre petrols and a 1.5-litre diesel unit – and measuring 92mm longer and 29mm wider than a Skoda Yeti in both front- and four-wheel-drive.
Pic: Current-model Dacia Duster.
The case to get the brand here is by no means a done deal and there are many hurdles yet to be overcome, but it is clear that stronger than expected sales in Europe in recent years mean the brand is being looked at with a revived sense of enthusiasm for Australia. Earlier last year the outlook was not so strong for the brand here.
The Romanian company, which has been owned by Renault since 1999, sold its three-millionth car in Europe earlier this month since it was relaunched in 2004. Sales in 2014 worldwide in Europe, South America and Asia are up 24.4 per cent. In the first half of the year it grew in Europe by more than 36 per cent, faster than any other brand.
“It’s fair to say that the global success of the Dacia brand, particularly the Duster, means the conversation around this vehicle at a corporate level happens quite frequently,” Renault Australia managing director Justin Hocevar told CarAdvice today.
While expressing caution was the key for now — Renault is on a roll, up again nearly 50 per cent this year in Australia and keen for now to focus on consolidating its range, growing its network and spreading the word a little better — Hocevar said the door for the Duster was also more open than it once was.
Pic: Dacia Sandero Stepway.
“I wouldn’t confirm that, but I would say that the likelihood of us looking at the next-generation Duster would be much greater than the view we took [originally],” he said
“And certainly we have provided feedback as to what we would need to make it work for the Australian market in terms of what the product offers, its dynamics, drivelines and engine/transmission variants, the suite of things Australians might look for in a vehicle.
“And of course what would be the right price.”
The Duster is sold in many markets outside of Europe such as Brazil and India (it is also produced in both countries, along with Romania, Russia and Indonesia) with Renault badges. In the UK it sells for about 9500 pounds at base level, about half the cost of a Nissan Qashqai.
Pic: Dacia Logan.
One thing that is for sure is that, as it stands, the Dacia range would not be sold with Renault badges like most markets outside of Europe.
“We don’t think that’s the right solution for Australia,” Hocevar said. “We think that if it was going to be brought here, it would be brought as a Dacia product, that would probably be the best thing, and that would then become an adjunct potentially to our existing dealer network and/or others.
“They’ve got a very different brand positioning and value and I think you cant muddy the waters between the two.”
Another issue is safety. The current Dacia range gets either three Euro NCAP stars (Logan, Lodgy and Duster) or four stars (Sandero). Hocevar said the next iteration of, say, the Duster, would not necessarily need five stars, considering its budget positioning.
“I don’t necessarily know if that’s going to be a necessary requirement, I think we’ve already seen a lot of automotive brands make statements about what ratings they’re targeting with specific vehicles and what rating they’re satisfied with,” he said.
“I think there’s a lot of change going on with ratings and as the ratings advance, look at new technology and its integration, as that’s being reset, I think we also have to recalibrate our expectations of what different vehicles in different categories at different price points can achieve.
“Safety is a key requirement to play in the Australian market, and we would never bring something that wasn’t considered a safe vehicle in its segment or price point.”
The comments are interesting, coming as they do just months after the facelifted Renault Megane fell foul of changing NCAP regulations by scoring a mediocre three stars. Renault was once a leader in NCAP ratings, and was the first brand to get an ANCAP five-star rating with the 2001 Laguna.