We laughed. Loud and hard. Last October, Renault launched the Pulse just a day before the first F1 race. It looked like a badge engineered Nissan Micra and that was puzzling enough. We cribbed (and continue to) that Renault made a blunder of Herculean sorts. A company that is known to make some of the finest hatchbacks through history would resort to a badge engineered solution was unfathomable. Maybe it was us who should shoulder the blame then - of expecting something in the mould of a cheaper Clio that would be absolute fun-to-drive while still returing some pretty decent economy numbers. This, it seems is a pure business proposition rather than something driven by following brand values.
Carlos Tavares, Renault's global chief operating office in a recent interview told us that Renault's big plan was to garner a 5 per cent marketshare by 2020. At first, the numbers may not seem much, but lets look at where the Indian market is poised to be at end of the decade. According to JD Power, the numbers could be as high as 9.3 million passenger cars and if the math is correct, that should mean Renault should be clocking about 4.5 lakh cars a year or thereabouts. Achievable? Not unless Renault and its partner Nissan get their value engineering into play.
That explains the grand formula for brand engineering. So far it's been the Pulse-Micra. Soon it will be the Sunny and Renault's answer, the Scala. Later it will be the Duster with a Nissan counterpart and the Evalia with a Renault counterpart. And by 2014, when the first sub 4 lakh rupee Datsun arrives, Renault will borrow it for its own solution. And what this product could be (which we highly suspect) is nothing more than the next Nissan Pixo for the export markets, badged as a Datsun and Renault for our market. Or will it be called a Dacia? That's a matter of conjecture.
Will badge engineering alone help Renault and Nissan tide the market and become a company as large (or even larger) than its European rival, the Volkswagen Group? Yes and no. While it does offer cost efficiencies at a large scale, it's very important to offer product propositions that are different enough to warrant the customer to see beyond the the logo on the bonnet. Design it seems may be one of the factors. While the Pulse hasn't managed to set the 'pulse' of the nation racing, it seems lessons may be learnt with the Scala. And hopefully with the other upcoming products as well. And it shouldn't be limited to exterior design alone, interior embellishments too have to be different enough while still keeping cost structures in check.
Yet, I feel there's space for a 'hoot to drive' hatch from Renault. The DNA of the brand lies in its small cars that make the senses tingle. No need for one that has a big sticker price, but even something that could give the Suzuki Swift something to think about would do. It would help Renault set its own brand image that would help differentiate from its Japanese partner. What say, Renault?