Renault
is planning to barnstorm its way back into the Australian market with a stable
of carefully-selected vehicles – and a $A20 million-a-year ($US10.4 million) promotional
budget, writes Mike Duffy.

The French marque has made a series of spectacularly unsuccessful attempts
over the years to establish itself Down Under.

The
Clio Sport

This time, Nissan Australia is behind the aggressive move, with the full support
of the European giant.

Instead of one or two vehicles of questionable relevance – as in the past –
Renault will launch in late May with four vehicles that look certain to grab
the attention of Australian buyers.

They are the Clio Sport, two wheel drive Scenic MPV (minivan), Scenic RX4 (a
four wheel drive minivan) and the elegant Megane cabriolet.

Within a couple of months the new Laguna sedan and wagon will join the line-up
followed by 1.4 litre and 1.6 litre Clios later in the year.

Next year, light commercial vehicles will be added to the line-up.

The
Megane cabriolet

The managing director and chief executive officer of Nissan Australia, Leon
Daphne, will take similar positions with Renault Australia.

Daphne said the new franchise would return a profit this calendar year if it
achieves its target of 3,500 units. The 2002 goal is 5,000 sales.

If that sounds ambitious for a brand that had trouble selling a few dozen units
a month last time out five years ago, consider what Daphne has to say about
his long-term master plan.

“Make no mistake about it,” he says. “Renault is serious about the Australian
market and plans to be the top-selling European brand here before the end of
the decade.”

He admits that to achieve that lofty goal the brand would have to sell – depending
on the strength of the domestic market – about 30,000 cars a year.

The
Scenic MPV

Daphne said Renault’s rebirth strategy had been in the planning for almost
two years, since the French manufacturer purchased a 36.8 per cent stake in
Nissan in March 1999 for $US4.8 billion.

“Renault is not something that is being taken lightly by anyone concerned”
Daphne says.

“We are very conscious of Renault’s interrupted sales performance in Australia.
It is a scenario that will not be repeated.

“Our research has shown that the brand’s former forays left a lasting impression
– an impressively positive one at that. Renault is perceived in Australia as
being innovative, technologically aware and daring in design.

“This is a perception we aim to develop to our advantage.”

The
Scenic RX4

Renault will have 20 dealers by the end of 2001. This will increase to 30 next
year and will grow according to need from 2003.

Daphne said the recently-created Renault Asia Pacific division, in close association
with the well-established Nissan Asia Pacific division, saw great potential
for growth and had plans to develop new markets for both companies over the
next decade.

“Opportunities exist within these markets and Renault plans to be in a position
to claim a significant share of the sales predicted in the Asia-Pacific market
by 2010,” Daphne said.

“One such opportunity has been recognised in Australia. Thanks to the strong
support and historic presence of Nissan Motor Company in Australia, Renault
is in an excellent position to quickly establish and develop its market presence
here.

The
Laguna sedan

“A lot of hard work has already been done over the last two years. Meticulous
attention has been afforded to every detail of the company’s launch here: executive
appointments, financial planning, product line-up and pricing, sales forecast,
dealer appointments and service training have all been developed.

“With a steady to buoyant market forecast for Australia in the medium term,
an impeccable product pedigree and a history of ambitious growth, Renault is
well placed and determined to succeed.”

He promised all Renaults marketed in Australia would be sold as Renaults.

“There will be no badge swapping with Nissan. There is no point introducing
Renault to Australia if it is to compete with Nissan. So Renault’s Australian
range is designed to complement the Nissan range.”

Daphne said Renault’s major competition would come from other European marques
as well as Japanese makes such as Subaru and Honda.

Author Mike Duffy is the motoring editor of The Advertiser and the Sunday
Mail in Adelaide, South Australia.