Lacking profitability, Renault’s premium brand is expanding its range, multiplying its points of sale and going electric to conquer new market shares. The royal road?
At the end of May, more than 1,000 Alpines from all eras gathered along the Dieppe beach to celebrate the 100th birthday of the brand’s founder, Jean Rédélé. This is where it all started in 1955. Jean, a Renault driver and dealer in Dieppe, decided to create his own car: a sports car based on the Renault 4CV. The Alpine A106 had just been born. But it is the famous Berlinette A110 (1961-77) that will make the brand famous, by its look and its performance in competition. Then came the darker years, until the takeover by Renault in 1973. In 1995, Alpine closed down shop altogether. But Renault retained the rights to the brand and brought it back to life at the end of 2017 with the launch of the new A110, which enjoyed great success by surfing the wave of nostalgia, with a retro look but up-to-date dynamic qualities.
At the end of May, more than 1,000 Alpines from all eras gathered along the Dieppe beach to celebrate the 100th birthday of the brand’s founder, Jean Rédélé. This is where it all started in 1955. Jean, a Renault driver and dealer in Dieppe, decided to create his own car: a sports car based on the Renault 4CV. The Alpine A106 had just been born. But it is the famous Berlinette A110 (1961-77) that will make the brand famous, by its look and its performance in competition. Then came the darker years, until the takeover by Renault in 1973. In 1995, Alpine closed down shop altogether. But Renault retained the rights to the brand and brought it back to life at the end of 2017 with the launch of the new A110, which enjoyed great success by surfing the wave of nostalgia, with a retro look but up-to-date dynamic qualities. Alpine must serve as a foil for Renault to pull the group up and help it increase its profitability. The operating margin of the latter was indeed 3.6% of turnover in 2021, the aim being to reach at least 5% by 2025. To this end, the group’s boss, Luca de Meo, wants to develop the range but first intends to make the most of the current A110 coupé. For such a niche model, sales got off to a good start in 2018 and 2019, with around 3,000 and 4,000 copies per year respectively, before collapsing in 2020 (just over 1,000 copies). Last year, sales rose to nearly 3,000 units and are expected to grow further this year. To avoid running out of steam, the leaders want to keep the flame going by opting in particular for the technique of special and limited series, which also make it possible to inflate the operating margin. This is how the “Jean Rédélé 100 years” (100 copies) and “Tour de Corse” (150 copies) series landed respectively in May and June, which sold out in just a few hours. The brand also relies on its personalization department: Atelier Alpine. Admittedly, we are far from the extreme individualization offered by brands like Rolls-Royce or Ferrari, where the wildest customer requests are achievable, but the Alpine buyer nevertheless has the choice between 22 specific exterior colors evoking the past. of the brand and only available in 110 copies each. Here too, Alpine creates scarcity to win better. The brand also has a range of derivative products branded Alpine, including leather goods and clothing. To enhance the image of the brand, the leaders also rely on its presence at the top of motorsport. Last year, the Alpine name landed in Formula 1, since the “Renault F1 Team” was renamed “Alpine F1 Team”. In fact, the activities of Alpine Cars, Renault Sport Cars (RS) and Renault Sport Racing are now combined into a single entity under the name Alpine. The brand is also active in endurance racing, notably with a presence at the mythical 24 Hours of Le Mans. These two disciplines were chosen for their media interest among the general public. However, it is difficult to gauge the precise impact on sales. It is however true that motorsport, and Formula 1 in particular, can contribute to making the brand known on the various world markets. The goal of the leaders is precisely to go beyond the French and European borders to expand Alpine’s presence internationally. Currently, nearly half of sales are already made outside France. Between 2020 and 2021, the brand opened 25 new points of sale, for a total of approximately 100 concessions worldwide. And we should have 50 more by the end of this year. If the current points of sale are mainly distributed in France and Europe, the goal is to establish the brand further outside the continent. It should be noted that the Belgian network is also expanding this year: to the two current exclusive Alpine centers (in Brussels and Antwerp) are added specific corners in the Renault dealerships of Ghent, Turnhout and Marche-en-Famenne. It should be noted that the Belux is very important for Alpine: last year it was the brand’s fourth global market (with 130 cars sold) behind France, Germany and the United Kingdom. This year, this fourth place is for the moment blown to us by… Japan, proof that the opening outside Europe is in progress. Still, the brand is still not profitable. The objective is for it to become so in 2025, including investments in motorsport. For this, it is imperative to expand the range and make it live with the times, that is to say, electrify it. The firm has therefore officially announced that it will switch to all-electric by 2025 (date on which the current gasoline-powered A110 will leave the catalog). Too bad for the purists… Alpine has already confirmed the launch of three battery-powered models by 2026: first a city car (sporty version of the future electric R5) in 2024, then an SUV-Coupé called X- Over GT in 2025 and then the future A110 coupe. This electric Berlinette will be designed in partnership with Lotus. And therefore partly with Chinese funds since Lotus was bought in 2017 by the Geely group, which holds 51% of the shares. It is not yet known to tell us where this future Alpine electric coupe will be produced, but probably at Lotus, in Great Britain. The sports city car could be produced at the Renault factory in Douai, in the north of France. As for the SUV-Coupé, the group has confirmed that it will be produced in Dieppe. The brand’s historic factory has therefore been saved… Good news for the 398 employees (including 103 temporary workers) on the site and for the local subcontractors. But the challenges remain numerous to sustain the future of the brand. Will the electric sauce take from Alpine customers? Not sure. Lightness and agility have always been the leitmotifs of Alpine products. However, an electric vehicle is by nature heavier and less sporty than a thermal one. And an SUV, even a “coupe”, has nothing to do with the Alpine spirit, although the thinking heads of the brand are trying to convince us otherwise. But hey, the Porsche brand has been saved by an SUV (the Cayenne)… And the small French brand can be delighted to be the subject of so much attention from the parent company: at Renault, we cut in the range by removing unprofitable models (the sedan and the Talisman station wagon have left the catalog and the Espace will follow). Quite the opposite at Alpine…