Can Renault Save Europe’s Mainstream Coupé Market?
By Andy Bannister
One of the most rapidly shrinking sectors of the European car market – that for two-door coupés produced by the mainstream manufacturers – is about to get a much-needed boost with the unveiling of a new entry from Renault.
The Laguna coupé, recently previewed in Monaco and Cannes, is an attempt to inject some much-needed glamour into the French giant’s range, which currently mainly consists of small cars and MPVs.
Not that many years ago, most bread-and-butter European makes has at least one closed coupé to get punters into the showrooms and add interest to their range, but this trend has been under attack from two sides.
Prestige brands like Mercedes, BMW and Audi have now taken the class way up the price scale, leaving the mass-market badges behind. The big players have in turn have been wooed by the blossoming popularity of electric metal-roof cabriolets (such as the VW Eos), with a various ungainly fat-rumped competitors from Peugeot, Renault, Opel and Ford vying for sales.
Among the traditional two-door closed coupés only Peugeot, with its biggish 407, is still in contention. Recent sales figures, though, make dismal reading. In 2007 Peugeot shifted only 8,545 of their coupé across the whole of Europe, down a whopping 32.6% on the previous year. To put that into some context, in the specialist prestige sector Porsche’s 911 and Alfa Romeo’s GT both sold over 12,000 units in the same period.
Peugeot’s performance is probably not helped by the shortcomings of its contender. Its predecessor, the 406 coupé, was a great looker from all angles thanks to its sleek Pininfarina styling, but the replacement 407 coupé (pictured) is far from beautiful or even memorable. In truth it looks more ordinary than the saloon and station wagon models in the fading 407 range.
Renault itself has a fairly poor track record as far as coupés are concerned. In the 1970s it sold two related small three-door models called the 15 and 17 with only average success, following these up with the bold-looking Fuego of 1981, which saw sales collapse after a promising start and led the French maker to abandon the market in favour of hot hatchbacks.
Its choice of the Laguna (a VW Passat competitor) as the basis for a coupé revival aims the new car right at the jugular of arch-rival Peugeot. More importantly, Renault must be hoping it kick-starts interest in the new but rather overlooked third-generation Laguna family, which is already on sale in other bodystyles and has been much criticised for its bland styling, particularly compared to the nice-looking previous generation model. The new coupé appears much better proportioned, at least.
Incidentally, the Laguna is a lineal descendant of the obscure car known to Americans as the Eagle Medallion, if anyone remembers the ill-fated Renault link with doomed AMC back in the 1980s.
Mechanically, the new car comes with existing engines from the Laguna range plus a new Renault-Nissan diesel and petrol V6. The 3.0-litre oil-burner packs 235hp and 332lb ft of torque, while the 3.5-litre petrol unit offers 240bhp and 244lb ft; both come with an automatic transmission. The petrol V6 will be the range-topping model and should hit 60mph in under seven seconds.
The Laguna coupé will be shown in greater detail at Paris Motor Show this autumn. The company will pitch it as “designed to offer sheer driving pleasure”. The press release gushes: “It epitomizes this savoir-faire when it comes to motoring enjoyment and quality which is built into its genes and which can be seen in the finish which matches even the most demanding standards”.
The coupé hopes to “play a key role in the Renault’s brand’s expansion in the upper-range market”, the release adds. Given the near-invisibility of the company’s current Vel Satis executive car, and the embarrassing flop of the recent Avantime model, whose poor sales led to a remarkably premature death, Renault is possibly being a mite optimistic.
It’s interesting to wonder why the company hasn’t learned more from its alliance partner, Nissan. about making larger cars which appeal to consumers. Nissan will shortly introduce the Infiniti brand in Europe for the first time (albeit remarkably late in the day).
Another problem Renault and Peugeot both face is that their respective coupés don’t sell in North America, by far the biggest market for cars of this type.
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