Renault team up with Caterham


It seems as far fetched as a Hollywood A-lister marrying a girl from The Mumbles but Renault, a vast, multi-national that’s part of the fourth largest car group in the world is going into business with Caterham.

Yes Caterham, that tiny Dartford-based company best known for nearly 40 years of production of the back-to-basics spaceframe Seven.

Of course it’s not as simple as that. Caterham is now owned by Tony Fernandes who also owns the eponymous Formula 1 team and has the resources to buy half of Automobiles Alpine Renault, the Renault subsidiary that will be responsible for building the new range of sports cars that result. Even so they do not strike me as the most obvious of bedmates.

It’s not true to say we know little about what products will result. We know nothing. What they must do however is provide the fresh direction Caterham has been searching for at least 20 years. We must also mean the first all new Alpine model since the gorgeous A610 of 1991. And finally it is clear there will be Caterham badged models and Alpine models, each apparently with their own characters, styling and ‘brand DNA’ whatever that means.

The prospect is mouth-watering but, I fear, fraught. As someone who has driven all the significant Alpine road cars and loved the lot save the A310, and driven, owned, raced, built and crashed many Caterhams over the years, I bow to no-one in my desire to see this venture succeed. But history is not on its side. The last Alpine, the aforementioned A610, didn’t put a foot wrong. It was fast, beautiful, and better to drive than a 911 of the same period, but none of that could spare it miserable sales and a premature death after just three years on the market.

As for Caterham, it did once design itself a new type of road car, a kind of civilized Seven called the 21, which it launched in 1994. Sadly its arrival coincided with that of the Lotus Elise and production ceased with fewer than 50 having been built, the kind of number than makes McLaren F1s look positively common.

So what should this Caterpine or Alperham be? In a word, affordable. I don’t think either brand has the strength to command six digit price tags or anything close. Even half this money would put whatever results squarely in the sights of cars like the Porsche Cayman S. But to go any cheaper would require volume sales of the kind neither Caterham nor Alpine have been able even to imagine in their entire histories.

So if it can’t be truly cheap, it had better be truly different but here too do difficulties lie. I’d like them to build a stripped out, ultra-light road and track warrior but out there in the real world, the actual demand for such cars is tiny.

Therefore what the venture will need to create are products true to the ultra-purist heritages of both brands, but that are also sufficiently civilised to be used for more than mere recreation and which will appeal to fashionistas at least as much as die-hard drivers. And when they finally arrive in the market, it will find Alfa’s gorgeous 4C occupying exactly that territory. As briefs go, that’s as tough as they come but I wish them all the very best with it.

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