Renault Australia is considering using the 2017 Alpine lightweight coupe as the catalyst for testing an online sales model, as it seeks to make forays into e-commerce.
For those not across it, Alpine is a 60-year old French sports car brand with a rabid following in its home market, and a decorated road and race history. Its most recent road car, the A610, ended production in 1995.
Now, under the full ownership of Renault, it is about to return, with a new lightweight coupe to be built at the same plant as the Clio RS, leveraging Renault parts, and offering a lightweight two-seater with elegant design and daily-drivability.
It is also locked away for right-hand-drive production, and is all but certain to hit Australia in the months after its global launch, likely in early to mid 2017. Pricing is less clear, though somewhere between $60,000 has been speculated.
First, supply will be limited, since Renault will only make about 3500 globally per year. Second, Alpine remains rather unknown in Australia outside of a core group of hardcore fans, with about 30 classic cars kicking around the country.
So how then does Renault Australia sell the Alpine? Would setting up a presence in all 50 national dealers — many of which are light commercial vehicle experts — make sense?
Speaking with us this week, Renault Australia managing director Justin Hocevar said the company would look to discuss a potential online sales strategy with its largely multi-franchise dealer network next year.
Whether this proposal manifests as merely a deep-dive immersive research tool, a full-on click-and-buy service or something in the middle, remains up in the air. The key issue, as we see it, is how to give prospective buyers a test drive.
Brands such as Tesla have shown that there is a way to directly engage customers though dedicated events — such as venue hire and test drive en masse — and popups. Likewise, Subaru, when it faced serious supply issues on the BRZ in 2012, set up an online ordering system — which had detractors, but served as a great learning curve for the industry.
Consulting and keeping dealers as a part of the decision-making process is, obviously, vital, given the mere mention of ‘e-commerce’ can elicit a guarded response from brick-and-mortar franchisees eager to defend their turf.
“Given it’s [Alpine] a specialised brand, it requires a specialised network,” Hocevar said. “[But] when I say explore, I mean don’t go with blind arrogance to you business partners (the dealers) and disappear down our own approach.
“It’s a vastly different business model, we have to be respectful of partners but have a mature open look at it, not letting ourselves be trapped in place and not looking to the future.”
One option includes setting up a digital process that takes you to the point of setting up an interview and drive, facilitated either by a dealer or by Renault itself.
The list of hypothetical proposals goes through to paying Renault directly for the car and the dealer acting simply as a handover point — an issue that throws in the variables of how one trades-in a car.
“Traditional thinking goes to a dealer, perhaps that needs to be the case. But the discussion is of another way of going about it. Having an opportunity to see and touch is important, but it doesn’t mean they have to go to a dealer. It can be brought to them or set in a central location,” Hocevar added.
“Whatever the level of involvement is, it must be explored. There’s an opportunity to develop an understanding of how e-commerce and automotive can begin to work.”
The Alpine coupe, name unknown, will arrive in Australia in 2017. It will look like the Celebration concept pictured second from top and offer a pure, two-seat and lightweight driving experience.