Oscar Wilde said there are only two great tragedies in life: one is not getting what you want and the other, appropriate for today’s news, is getting it. Renault’s CEO Luca de Meo told journalists yesterday that beloved sports car brand Alpine is coming to the United States. He also told journalists that the brand will not be bringing any sports cars.
Yes, a rant is coming. I’m not going to swear. I’m not going to get mean or sarcastic. I want to be heard. Specifically, I want someone in Renault PR to print this out and put it in the hands of Renault CEO Luca de Meo, and I want Luca de Meo to be reading these words while drinking his espresso or smoking a cigarette or whatever. At the end of this rant will be other news and Luca, my pal, my friend, I also want you to read those, too, because I chose them for you.
If, at the end of this, you disagree — if you want to ignore me, if you think I’m just being silly — that’s ok. I get it. Maybe I am silly. If we allow a third tragedy in life, it may be listening to the rants of automotive journalists who have strong opinions and absolutely no skin in the game. Hop in the car Shinji, we got work to do.
Don’t Screw It Up
I’m writing this for you, Luca, but I want our American readers to grasp the importance of what I’m saying. So I’m going to review a lot of things you already know, so just bear with me please.
Alpine was a niche sports car brand from France by a man named Jean Redele who got his start hotting up Renaults, and who eventually built the glorious original A110, which was a rear-engined sports that won a bunch of races. Renault eventually bought the company and the A110 went on to win the World Rally Championship in 1973. The now Renault-owned Alpine also won Le Mans with a prototype in 1978. Alpine would go on to build a few more cars, including the A310/GTA you might know from “Neon Genesis Evangelion” but, mostly, the brand is known for producing stellar R5 Turbo hot hatches. Then the brand went dark for about two decades.
When Alpine eventually came back, it did so with a car called the A110. In design, spirit, and performance, the little sportster was a worthy successor to the original. I have driven this car, in France, and I think it’s absolutely wonderful (you can read more about that here). I would love for Alpine to bring the A110 to the U.S. but even I, a silly automotive journalist, understand it’s likely not possible and not worth it at this point. It would be too expensive, and the car is too late into its life.
Alpine did a bunch of other smart things, including going racing and renaming the Renault F1 team “Alpine” right at the time America woke up to the concept of Formula One. I’ve watched the company race at Le Mans. I’ve been to one of the brand’s little shops in Paris. I have an Alpine-branded notebook I take with me everywhere. I am the American who gets it.
Alpine has teased both a new A110 and an electric R5 successor and I though “Great, this is perfect.” When Alpine said it was going full EV I, too, thought this made sense. For being such a small brand, Alpine has an enormous amount of brand equity with certain people; it’s known for making clever and fast cars that look like they were designed by Cézanne and that drive like they were engineered by fighter jet-maker Dassault.
So you can imagine my excitement this morning when I opened my digital copy of Automotive News and saw this headline: “Renault’s Alpine brand sees U.S. market as key to sales, revenue targets.” I then had an ecstatic, Meg Ryan in a deli, sort of response. I agree! The U.S. market is key!
And then I read this:
The Renault sports car brand has aspirations to sell two models in the U.S., a midsize electric crossover and a larger, similar model, starting in 2027 or 2028.
“The U.S. is the main destination for these cars,” [Luca de Meo] said on a call with journalists on Wednesday.
Sure. Build some crossovers. I just want to make it clear now, Luca, that I support this plan. People in America (and everywhere else) want electric crossovers. You’re never going to get the volume you need making only sports cars, and people who complain about Lotus or Porsche or whomever building crossovers and sedans are narrow-minded malcontents. It turns out that the many of the customers who bought Cayennes and Panameras grew up loving 911s and 944s. There’s a lesson in that! Porsche didn’t stop selling 911s here, they just put them next to the SUVs.
But then I kept reading about the new cars Alpine is launching:
The first to be launched will be the Renault 5 Alpine, a “hot hatch” version of the coming Renault 5 small EV, in the second half of 2024. It will be followed in 2025 by a sporty compact crossover, tentatively called the GT, which will have a “bespoke” design and will use a highly modified Renault-Nissan platform, likely CMF-EV.
Alpine’s compact crossover will have performance enhancements including torque vectoring, more powerful electric motors and different battery chemistry from mainstream Renault Group models.
An electric A110 successor is due by the start of 2027. It will be developed in collaboration with Lotus, part of China’s Geely group, which has several joint venture agreements with Renault.
Those three models are not scheduled to be sold in the U.S.
Emphasis mine as I slowly start to lose my mind. We’re getting, according to Automotive News, a Porsche Macan and a Cayenne Coupe and, at least for the next decade, that’s it.
This is, I think, unacceptable. Alpine does not have much of a brand in the United States and the brand that it does have is going to partially rely on people who care to be evangelists and those people are probably going to be upset. I am upset. This all sounds extremely familiar to me.
Now, instead of telling people who ask about Alpine that “Hey, this is a brand you should care about” I feel kinda compelled to say “This is a brand who does not get it so go ahead and buy the Lotus because Lotus gets it.”
But I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt. I’m going to calm myself and assume that maybe you assumed no one here cared. I’ve seen the great lengths you’ve gone to in France to get people excited about the sporting nature of the brand, and maybe you assumed that this was only important for the hometown crowd. It’s a fair assumption. I think it’s a wrong assumption, though. I think if you’re going to ride the F1 wave you need to, first, reach your fans in the United States and accept that they do exist. I don’t care what anyone tells you. They are wrong.
We may not have been able to drive real Alpines or R5s here in America, but I’ve played a decent amount of Gran Turismo and Forza and, in my experience, we’ve all driven and loved the virtual versions of those cars. They are popular choices on those platforms. Of course, this may not be all of your audience, but it’s some of your audience, and it’s a good place to start.
So be careful, because there is something galling about not even being sort of meekly placated in this situation. You’re not even going to pretend to be bringing those cars to the United States? I understand that federalizing cars for the U.S. is expensive, but you’re not even going to try and bring over a few R5s as a sort of halo product? Why not?
Some of this is instinct and you have no reason why you should trust my instinct over your own, but I believe the cost of making either the R5 or the A110 successor available in the United States is going to get you more than you’re going to lose by not doing so. This is unknowable, of course, but consider this: If you don’t listen to me and Alpine comes to the United States and flops you’re going to be thinking about this column. It’s going to gnaw at you. You’re going to wish you listened.
Take this advice as advice from a friend you’ve never met. A person who cares about what you are trying to do and wishes the best for you. Please, please, please, don’t screw it up.
VinFast Is Screwing It Up
Vietnamese automaker VinFast is shipping cars to the United States and the company is already in trouble. Everyone who cares has read the great Kevin Williams piece about how these cars are not ready for primetime. VinFast’s cars are too expensive for an unknown brand and the cars are burdened with a confusing battery renting option that makes no real sense. And then, a week ago, Tesla announced it was massively undercutting VinFast with a price drop.
Look at this way: You can get a VinFast VF8 for $59,000 or you can get a Model Y for $52,990. Which one are you going to take?
VinFast’s response? According to Reuters, it’s going to be, uh, something?
“As a new brand entering the market, when other brands reduce their prices we have to come up with promotions to ensure VinFast’s competitiveness,” a VinFast spokesperson said in a statement.
“We are considering many promotion programmes and will announce soon.”
The statement did not specify whether the promotions would include price cuts.
I get that Tesla threw a knuckleball, but this does not engender confidence. There’s some level of: Fake-it-till-you-make-it required to appeal to an American audience. We respect, whether for good or ill, confidence. We even respect false confidence and completely unfounded bluster!
Come out swinging, Luca. Don’t be VinFast.
Maybe Be Like Dacia
Renault’s affordable brand, Dacia, is kicking ass. It’s the right brand at the right time. There’s a land war in Europe, everyone’s worried about a recessions, but you still gotta buy a car sometimes. Why not a Dacia Duster?
According to the company, sales were up 6.8% last year. That’s 2022. That’s the year where most car brands lost sales. What happens when you sell more cars in a contracting market? You pick up market share. From the company’s press release:
Markets where Dacia vehicles are sold contracted by 5.5% relative to 2021. The brand’s strong performance confirms the relevance of its positioning of offering the best value for money, as its new range has proven to be a popular choice among retail customers. In 2022, Dacia achieved a record-breaking market share in Europe with 7.6% of [Private Car] sales to retail customers, strengthening its position for the second year in a row (having claimed a 6.2% share in 2021).
The core selling point of Dacia is value. They are not the flashiest cars. They are not the fastest cars. They are totally fine cars for a better than fine price. And that’s all they ever need to be. It works. To quote Willy Shakespeare: To thine own self be true.
Foo Fighters And Green Day Are Playing A Harley-Davidson Festival In Milwaukee
This will require no real explanation to any American over 30. If you lived through any part of the ’90s you remember that the worst possible thing you could do was sell out. This was especially true if you were a grunge-y rock band or a punk band. Green Day, the most famous ’90s punk band at least by record sales, was banned from their hometown club for signing with a major record label. It was nuts. Green Day then went on to make songs and records that decried a sort of rising, Harley-riding, Toby Keith-ian jingoism. Most famously, they wrote the song “American idiot,” which has these lines:
Well, maybe I’m the [horribly offensive word to the gay community], AmericaI’m not a part of a redneck agenda Now everybody, do the propaganda And sing along to the age of paranoia
And now Green Day is playing… the Harley-Davidson Homecoming Festival in Milwaukee this summer with the Foo Fighters and, guess what? No one cares. No one is going to get mad at Green Day or the Foo Fighters. I mean, maybe someone will, but most people will not care. Few will call them hypocrites or tweet stupid, angry stuff at them.
No reasonable person should begrudge Green Day and Foo Fighters who both, for decades, have continued making enjoyable music and playing big, enjoyable concerts for fans. No one should doubt them and no one should feel bad if they make a little money. It sounds like a great show. Joan Jett and Phantogram will be there. It’s Milwaukee so expect both good beer and good sausage. Go have fun.
I say this, Luca, because we all know that Green Day and the Foo Fighters have earned it. They have nothing to prove. You still do. At least here in America.
Don’t screw it up.
I know this was a bit…passionate, but am I wrong? This is a lot of words for the CEO of Renault. Maybe I’m wrong. Luca, or anyone, feel free to tell me I’m wrong.
Photos: Alpine, VinFast, Harley-Davidson, Dacia