The Insider

CHECK THE PICTURES OF THE NEW ALPINE VISION CONCEPT. LOOK AGAIN. CLOSELY. NOTICE ANYTHING MISSING? YEP, THAT’S RIGHT. THERE’S NOT A SINGLE RENAULT BADGE ANYWHERE ON THE CAR.

REVIVING A BRAND

That’s a big departure from 2012’s Alpine A110-50 concept – built to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alpine’s most iconic car – whose entire front end graphic was defined by a prominent chrome diamond on its snout.

Founded by Dieppe Renault dealer Jean Redele in the 1950s, Alpine built light, compact sports cars using Renault mechanicals; a sort of French Porsche, if you will. The 1955 Alpine A106 was built using Renault 4CV bits; the A108 built between 1958 and 1963 was powered by a Renault Dauphine Gordini engine; the legendary A110 began life with a Renault R8 powertrain.

In 1971, A110s – now with engines based on the Renault 16’s 1.6-litre four – scored an historic 1-2-3 finish in the Monte Carlo Rally, and repeated the feat in 1973, before going on to win the World Rally Championship.

But wins on Sunday didn’t translate to sales on Monday, and struggling Alpine was taken over by Renault in 1973. Two more Alpine sports cars – the A310 and A610 – appeared on Renault’s watch before the company effectively shelved the brand in 1995.

Announcing the return of Alpine in Monaco earlier this year, Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn carefully made it clear it would be a separate, stand-alone brand. The production version of the mid-engine Alpine Vision, said to be badged the A120 and scheduled to appear in 2017, will not be the only Alpine model.

Renault design boss Laurens van den Acker says the A120 needs to be “the 911 of Alpine”, because it will clearly define the brand and, just as Porsche has done with its iconic sports car, pave the way for a broader range of Alpine vehicles. “If we do [the A120] properly, then we can consider cars like a Panamera,” he says. And the Cayenne? An Alpine SUV is reportedly already under development and is tipped to make its debut in 2018.

Launching a new premium brand is expensive and time-consuming. What’s more, the Germans, Japanese, Americans, Koreans and even the Chinese (Geely owns Volvo, remember) are already at the party, and Renault’s Alpine launch comes six years after arch-rival PSA launched its DS premium brand. Yet, ironically, Alpine may be the more successful of the two French attempts.

Why? Credibility. The DS brand is a confection built around a memory, where showy styling and glittery showrooms are presented as the evolution of a vehicle design and engineering concept that, at its launch in 1955, was quite simply the most futuristic ever attempted in a mass-production car – the Citroen DS.

The link between the original Citroen DS and today’s DS range is pure marketing hyperbole. By contrast, if Renault delivers on promises to make the A120 light and fast and agile, it will be a car true to the Alpine brand, the real deal. And if Porsche can successfully make and sell SUVs, there’s no reason its

The A120 needs to be “the 911 of Alpine” because it will clearly defi ne the brand

Goddess on the road

Originally launched in 2010 as a high-style, low-cost attempt to cash in on the customisation trend started by Mini, DS has evolved into the PSA Group’s premium market spearhead. It is, ironically, intended for a role Citroen itself could have easily fulfi lled before Peugeot dumbed down the world’s most consistently innovative car company. PSA plans to launch six new DS models by 2020, including two SUVs. Sadly, none will have hydropneumatic suspension.