DESPITE Renault Australia enjoying a sales increase of almost 25 per cent last year, the brand is playing down any chance it has of continuing such growth and overtaking its local sales record set in 2015.
According to Renault Australia general manager Glen Sealey, the company does not expect to see a continued sales climb to the degree it has recently experienced; rather he thinks it will begin to plateau.
“We had a terrific year last year; I’d like to think we could replicate that year in 2023 as part of stabilising, and I’d like to keep where we are, as a number, give or take, as a step up as the (new product) portfolio comes though,” he told GoAuto at a recent media briefing in Sydney.
“The way we’re running the brand at the moment, though, is to have supply meet demand. Renault is still a brand that is relatively small in Australia.”
From a low of 6904 deliveries in 2020 followed by 7099 in 2021, Renault sold 8855 units in Australia last year, the brand’s biggest sales volume since the peak of 11,525 cars, SUVs and vans it sold in this country when still a factory-owned importer in 2015.
Renault has become a star among those brands that tend to appear towards the lower end of the local sales charts. Its 2022 sales volume means it has overtaken Skoda (6502 sales) and is well ahead of French rivals Citroen (296) and Peugeot (2087).
Parsing the results over the last seven years, Renault has had a turbulent ride, mostly due to product availability – or lack of. With important models like the Megane (except for the RS hot hatch flagship) dropped in 2018 and the Clio altogether in 2020, it lost around 1800 combined annual sales.
The Koleos medium SUV has also suffered a hit against fresher competitors, with a drop of 459 units between 2018 and 2019.
Against this backdrop of product disappearing and others faltering was the Kadjar small SUV that arrived to this market late in its lifecycle for a two-year sojourn from 2019-2020 during which it chalked up just 632 sales.
There has been a strong return to form with new Arkana coupe-SUV and Captur light SUV in the past two years, with combined volume bumping up from under 1000 in 2021 to around 2600 last year. The long-in-the-tooth Koleos also saw a bump up of 615 units last year compared with 2021.
Ateco took over in April 2021 from Renault’s own factory representation, Vehicle Distributors Australia, which had opened shop in 2001. Ateco also represents the Maserati, LDV and Ram brands in Australia.
Mr Sealey said his expectations for Renault sales growth in Australia were partly tempered by the current uncertain economic conditions, some stock shortages – particularly for the LCV range – and especially by the number of fresh products viable for Australia.
“Sure we’re growing the brand, but it depends on economic conditions and new product coming though. We also have some supply constraints for some (but not all) of our LCVs; for example, if you want a Master bus, you’ll be out to 2024 with your order,” he explained.
“The new product is key. We’re not going to stand here and say we’re going to sell double the existing model range because we’re really good. What we have to do is say that we can stabilise the business, we can inject some excitement into it, but fundamentally the growth part forward is organic and it is based on new product such as this (Megane E-Tech).”
As GoAuto reported in June 2020, Renault undertook sweeping reforms to reduce fixed costs by €2 billion. Renault Group chair Jean-Dominique Senard said at the time that the company would focus heavily on reducing engineering costs.
This has affected which products the Australian market can lay its hands on, according to Mr Sealey, because of some unique safety, emissions and anti-theft requirements under the Australian Design Rules (ADR) umbrella.
“We do have unique ADRs in Australia that require unique investment for a relatively small market and so putting up your hand up for a new vehicle is one thing, getting the large machine that is Renault to then decide to invest in the engineering to bring a car to Australia is another.”
Mr Sealey said while there is general agreement with Renault on what can come to Australia, ADR costs could reduce what is viable to bring here.
“We’ve got a product portfolio that we’d like to see, we’ve got agreement with Renault on all of that, but at the end of the day you never know how that will all go (once engineering costs are assessed).
“For example, with the Megane E-Tech, we’ve had to pull out the passenger-side ISOFIX in the front seat to meet ADRs. That doesn’t sound like much, but when you need to make a total of three million seats a year, and for a country that represents one per cent of your production, that engineering change becomes problematic.
“Everything comes down to engineering cost. Does Renault hypothetically spend, say, €3 million to get this car right for Australia, or does it instead spend €3 million putting a different feature in the car for the European market that will see five per cent more sales?
“We consider value over volume; volume is not our aspiration.”
Meanwhile, Renault’s new Kangoo small van, including the battery electric E-Tech, will arrive in the third quarter of this year, with the Megane E-Tech due in time for Christmas.
Mr Sealey said the Arkana will “stay as it is this year”, with perhaps an upgrade in early 2024.
As for the Koleos, it continues through the end of 2024. “After that we don’t know, but that medium SUV segment is a big segment for us”, said Mr Sealey, who added that the new Koleos may not be platform-shared with the Nissan X-Trail as it has been up to now.