PARIS SHOW: Renault Espace now a crossover SUV
Redesigned Espace on show in Paris is Renault's first full rework of the model in over a decade
Renault has revamped its Espace people carrier as a crossover sport utility vehicle, reflecting a market shift to more rugged-looking vehicles.
The fifth generation version - smaller than its predecessors but still gargantuan by European standards - made its debut at the Paris show on Thursday, 30 years after the first model was launched, Reuters reported.
Like the North American Chrysler, Plymouth and Dodge-badged minivans that narrowly preceded it - and contributed to the North American cult of the 'soccer mom' - the Espace - known as an MPV or multi-purpose vehicle in Europe - created a whole new market segment. Renault has sold over 1.2m over three decades.
"It's certainly a great nameplate to revive, because it was quite something for Renault," UBS analyst Philippe Houchois told Reuters. "It was about the closest Renault ever got to a premium product."
For almost 10 years, Renault has been all but banished from larger-car categories after a series of flops such as the 2007 Laguna sedan and the Avantime and Vel Satis, since discontinued. Instead, the company has been doing brisk business in low-cost cars under its budget Dacia badge.
Under chief designer Laurens van den Acker, hired from Mazda in 2009, the core brand has begun pushing back with smaller models such as the fourth generation Renault Clio mini and its Captur spin-off, Europe's best-selling subcompact SUV.
Reuters said the real test comes with the redesigned Espace - the current version is 11 years old - and other launches coming in its wake. A compact offroader, an updated Megane hatchback and a Laguna successor will share common architecture with 43.4%-owned alliance partner Nissan.
Once the European market leader, the Espace is now one of the laggards of its category, far behind the Ford S-Max, redesigned for this Paris show, Reuters noted.
Large SUVs overtook European minivan sales in 2008 and doubled their tally last year, claiming 17% of sales in the size category, according to IHS Automotive.
"It's a global shift affecting even family vehicles, and it is here to stay," Societe Generale analyst Philippe Barrier told Reuters. "Designers are having to compromise as people look for something sportier."
Ford achieved four times Renault's European sales of the Espace with 17,000 S-Max deliveries in the first half of last year.
"The S-Max somewhat invented the shift from pure minivans to sport utility vehicles," Ford product development chief Raj Nair told Reuters. "We've upped our game to ensure that the S-Max remains leader."
Renault, meanwhile, will not sell the Espace in right hand drive, ruling out extra sales in one of Europe's largest markets.