[MONTE CARLO] Renault lifted the lid on a revival of the Alpine sports car brand on Tuesday, showing a concept version of a new model it hopes will give it a modest foothold in premium auto markets when it goes on sale next year.
Sales ambitions for the new Alpine, the first new production model under the badge in more than 20 years, are modest, with annual output at its Dieppe plant projected at around 3,000 vehicles.
But success even on such a small scale would be a vindication of sorts for Renault's premium aspirations, with a potential "halo effect" for the rest of the French carmaker's line-up.
Like earlier Alpines, the sleek new car will employ a rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive architecture that keeps weight to a minimum. Its four-cylinder turbo will power the car from 0-100 kilometres per hour (62 mph) in 4.5 seconds, Renault says. "Our goal is to reach new customers in the premium sports car segment," Renault Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said before the unveiling on Tuesday.
Founded in 1954 by a garage owner in Dieppe, northern France, Alpine drew on Renault engines and chassis from its earliest models.
It was eventually bought by the manufacturer in 1973, the year Alpine won the World Rally Championship - placing first, second and third in Monte Carlo. By then, models such as the classic A110 had acquired a sizeable following in Europe as well as overseas markets such as Brazil.
Renault stopped making Alpine-badged cars in 1995.
Renault and other mass-market carmakers have flirted repeatedly with a move upmarket as German premium heavyweights such as Audi and BMW push down into smaller categories.
Like Ford's Vignale sub-brand, however, Renault's slightly plusher Initiale Paris versions of mainstream models have done little to alter perceptions.
The Alpine relaunch is a bolder move more in keeping with domestic rival PSA Peugeot Citroen's decision to separate its DS range from Citroen as a new stand-alone brand.
The project has already overcome one false start, when a 2012 joint venture intended to build the vehicles with Caterham, the British niche sports car maker owned by AirAsia tycoon Tony Fernandes, unravelled two years later.
The revival, if successful, may not stop at one model, Ghosn said on Tuesday. "To build a brand you need more than one car,"the Renault boss said. "But it's one step at a time."