PARIS－French automaker Renault revealed an electric revamp of a beloved hatchback from the 1970s on Thursday to spearhead a revival plan after years of turmoil. The company is hoping to move upmarket as the industry races to make a clean-energy shift.
Luca de Meo, the Italian industry veteran brought in after the arrest and ousting of ex-chief Carlos Ghosn, promised to streamline operations and focus on more profitable segments as he laid out his strategy blueprint for the next five years.
At the vanguard will be a new version of the 5, once Renault’s stalwart produced between 1972-96. It will be “an electric car that everyone can afford,” De Meo said at a news conference.
The original 5 was hugely popular and remains a favorite of collectors as well as rally fans ready to pay tens of thousands of dollars for turbocharged models.
“It’s instantly recognized by millions of drivers－it’s free publicity,” said Flavien Neuvy of France’s Cetelem auto research group.
Renault is banking on a similar success as it reduces its model range while hiking vehicle prices by thousands of dollars－aiming to lift operating margins to 3 percent by 2023 and more than 5 percent by 2025.
It would be a major comeback from the 7.3 billion euro ($8.9 billion) loss chalked up in the first half of last year, when sales plunged as countries locked down to halt the coronavirus pandemic.
Renault was an early adopter of electric vehicles for the masses under former chairman Ghosn. He was forced out in 2019 following his arrest in Tokyo on financial misconduct charges while head of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance.
The company claims to have sold 325,000 electric vehicles in Europe since 2010. Although they are mainly small, subcompact cars like the Zoe or Twingo－a smaller and less profitable market compared to mid-size models.
De Meo said he would now focus on larger cars among the 24 new models planned by 2025. Of these, 10 will be either battery or hydrogen-powered－set to represent 65 percent of sales.
Renault will partner with Google on connected vehicles and artificial intelligence. Also, it is to build “the biggest electric car factory in Europe,” which De Meo said could potentially be in northern France.
Renault’s bestselling low-cost brands Dacia and Lada will also introduce new models－a “Bigster” SUV for Dacia and a new version of Lada’s Niva, the iconic Russian 4×4.
But De Meo has abandoned Ghosn’s goal of selling five million vehicles across 100 countries. He said he would target sales of 3.1 million by 2025 by focusing on high-potential countries in Latin America as well as India and South Korea.
The firm will also step up cost-cutting plans, aiming for 3 billion euros in savings by 2025, but without more layoffs after the 15,000 job cuts announced last May.
Renault’s revamp also aims to help it repay an emergency 5-billion-euro loan last year from the French state, which owns a 15 percent stake in the automaker.
Renault and its Japanese partners, Nissan and Mitsubishi, are the world’s third-biggest automotive group by sales. It sold 10.2 million vehicles in 2019, behind Volkswagen and Toyota.
But consolidation is set to continue. Companies are seeking to bulk up for the investments required in the shift to electric vehicles, as authorities worldwide clamp down on CO2 pollution.
In the meantime, Renault has a homegrown competitor hot on its heels. PSA Group this month closed its merger with Fiat Chrysler, propelling the new group, Stellantis, into fourth place.