Renault's redesigned Megane, details of which were announced on Tuesday, is a more conservative design than its 'shakin yer ass' predecessor but there are enough curves and metalwork flourishes to distinguish it from the very conservative new Golf, one of many against which it competes in the hard-fought European C-sector. Sales start in November.

A new interior follows the lines established by the redesigned Clio and Laguna but adds combined analogue/digital instruments incorporating a new, easier to read colour-coded cruise control/speed limiter interface.

Available equipment includes hands-free entry and ignition, automatic locking as the driver walks away from the car, a Carminat Bluetooth DVD navigation system, a custom-developed audio system by Arkamys and electric park brake.

A broad, extensively revised range of 'dCi' and 'TCe'  engines includes four diesels with CO2 emissions of 120g/km or less.

Safety equipment includes double side impact sensors and dual-chamber airbags, first seen on the latest Laguna, aimed at minimising the effects of a side-on collision.

"With market share of more than a third, the [C-] segment has long been the biggest in western Europe and makes a significant contribution to Renault's performance in terms of both volume and profitability," the automaker said, promising, by 2010, six different models, "each of which will have its own distinct and assertive personality".

These six models have been designed mainly for customers in Europe and will be manufactured in Palencia (Spain) and Douai (France).

Other models will be sold outside Europe modified to suit local demands.

The previous dCi 85 and dCi 105 diesel engines have been joined by the dCi 90, the particulate filter-equipped dCi 110 - all with CO2 emissions under 120g - and there is also a new dCi with emissions of 135g/km.

Coming later is a dCi 160 with manual gearbox and dCi 150 with automatic transmission.

Depending on market, the petrol range will comprise the 1.6 16V 100hp and 110hp engines, as well as the 2.0 16V 140hp and the TCe 180. The 2.0 16V will be available from launch with a six-speed manual gearbox, while continuously variable transmission (now a staple of Alliance partner Nissan) will be introduced later date.
A new TCe 130 petrol engine will be added next spring. This was developed by the Alliance and is a new, fuel-efficient 1,397cc unit said to have the power of a 1.8-litre engine (130hp) and the torque of a two-litre (190Nm) with CO2 emissions less than those of a 1.6.

Depending on version, these engines can be mated to five- or six-speed manual or automatic transmissions.

Biofuel-compatible engines (bioethanol and biodiesel) will also be offered.

Despite being bigger and roomier, the new Mégane is an average 8kg lighter than its predecessor.

The third generation Megane comes after worldwide sales of the first two of almost 8.5m units since launch in 1995. The outgoing model is made on three continents (Europe, South America and Asia) in nine factories, and sold in more than 75 countries outside western Europe.

With almost 5.2m cars registered in 2007 in western Europe, the medium-sized family car segment accounts for more than one-third of the European market and remains western Europe's biggest segment by volume.

Following the MPV revolution during the early part of this decade, the segment saw a huge influx of compact SUVs whose sales increased seven-fold over a period of 10 years and the C-segment rose 1.4% in 2007.

Today's sector is ultra-competitive, with more than 100 models available in Europe, produced by brands ranging from the world's major carmakers to European specialists. There are no fewer than 10 distinct body-types: three- and five-door two-box hatchbacks, coupés, three-box saloons, estates, coupé-cabriolets, short and long MPVs, SUVs and two-seat vans.

Two- and three-box saloons continued to account for more than half of all vehicle sales in 2007, and remain the traditional C-segment body type. They have finally succeeded in resisting the shift away from this type of car noted 10 years ago and sales volumes have now stabilised.

The proportion of diesel models has also been increasing consistently in western Europe and they accounted for 60% of the segment in 2007 (compared with 25% in 1995).

Renault spent EUR1.8bn developing the new Megane  though research and development costs were kept to a minimum thanks to the carry over of some technologies developed for the redesigned Laguna.

That significant carry over of components from the Laguna and other Renault models, as well as from the production set-up deployed for the second generation Mégane resulted in a sharp fall in production-related investment which was 30% less than that required for the previous car.

The introduction of the second-generation Mégane family led to significant investment in the factories which have consequently already been extensively modernised, with new body shops in particular.

The platform of the new Mégane is identical to its predecessor and that carry-over - not only platform components, but also the principal mechanical assemblies, parts and technical solutions - proved particularly valuable in curbing production-related investment and ultimately produced few constraints since it gave a free hand to the creativity of the design team.

Renault said the programme's profitability is, to a great extent, ensured by amortisation of the cost of using existing production facilities. To favour optimal use of the capacity of its European production plants (Palencia and Douai), the automaker has divided the production of the six models of the new Mégane between the two sites, with hatchbacks being produced in Spain. This reorganisation, with the different factories specialising in specific body types, has enabled cost savings to be achieved in the production of the platform which has now been amortised. It has also made it possible to optimise the way by which the investment for the production of each body type is targeted.

An EUR810m production-related investment was divided into EUR370m spent with suppliers and EUR440m on the factories, mainly Douai and Palencia.

Work with suppliers on optimising capacity dimensioning and the suppression of doubling up of tooling achieved a saving of EUR125m. The sourcing of some parts in eastern Europe and Asia resulted in lower component purchasing costs though strict quality control has retained a defect rate of 30 parts per million.

Factory-related investment was halved compared with the Mégane II and was split relatively evenly between the two plants, with EUR250m going to Douai and EUR190m to Palencia.

The purchase of tooling for the production of the new components and of new stamping shop robots cost EUR180m across three plants - Palencia and Valladolid (which does 60% of the stamping for the three body types) in Spain, and Douai in France.

The 95%-automated body shops were modified for EUR215m with almost half that spent in Palencia.

The purchase of about 100 robots has produced gains in both perceived quality and durability over the previous generation range. This tooling concluded the fitting out of the body shops which were set up five years ago.

The highly robotised paint shops had EUR7m spent on them to adapt existing equipment - Palencia's paint shop was extensively updated in 2002.

EUR32m went into assembly lines, again essentially adapting them for the new models.

Working conditions in Palencia were improved with the introduction of variable-height skids which are more ergonomically efficient. The introduction of strip and build procedures as used by Nissan during the start-up phase enabled operators to maintain a high level of precision when working on early runs of new models.

A car is set aside to be repeatedly built and stripped, enabling operators to keep their eye in at start-up production levels.

Start-up costs were EUR67m, an due to the harmonisation of procedures and methodologies from one factory to another.

The production launch of the different new Mégane body-types is programmed over a shorter period of time and Renault is poised to renew its line-up in the segment in western Europe in the space of less than two years.

A concept coupe has already been shown at European motor shows. The current Megane line includes three-and five-door hatchbacks, sedan, wagon, coupe-cabriolet and short and long Scenic MPVs.

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