French car giant Renault and English niche builder Caterham are getting their Alpine sports-car joint venture off the ground in a hurry.
While most of the armchair engineers in the cybergarage were still speculating that it would take at least four years to produce results, Renault marketing boss Stephen Norman was telling Autocar that the new Alpine would be in showrooms by the end of 2015.
What's even more impressive is that this will not be an updated version of Renault's cute little 1997 Alpine concept, which is now apparently regarded as outdated.
Norman told the magazine would be an all-new design, aimed squarely at the Porsche Boxster and the 3.2-litre Audi TT (serious cars, both of them), with a Renault engine of about 185kW, and would sell in the UK at less than £50 000 (R690 000).
Motorsport enthusiasts will recall that the original Alpines of the 1960s were primarily competition cars; Norman insisted the Caterham Alpine would be “not soft” but, in almost the same breath, said it would be nowhere near as hardcore as a Peugeot 106 Rallye.
“It won't be more hardcore than a Mazda MX-5.”
Autocar quoted him as saying: “What we do will not be soft. You can't betray the DNA of Alpine. That's a third of what the car will be.”
Norman said the car would be quintessentially French.
“It must be light and look different, and have a touch of French dash,” he said. “It's not a girly car. We know who the buyer is: he's either French or he likes French design and styling.”
It sounds as if Renault and Caterham are trying to walk a fine line between performance and comfort. To compete with the Boxster, in particular, they will have to build a an upmarket luxury roadster that feels race-derived even if it isn't.