By on December 13, 2010

Global alliances between humongous corporate entities are always intimidating and mostly ill-performing. Oftentimes they just don’t work (née Daimler-Chrysler). Other times we just don’t see the point (Ford and various ex-PAG members or GM-Saab). The Renault-Nissan Alliance, who-would-have-believed-it is maybe, just maybe, the most successful of the lot. As TTAC itself has reported earlier, the French car known as the Nissan Tiida is now America’s best-selling compact car. In Brazil, Nissan has just sprinkled some of its Nippo-fairy-wand-dust on Renault’s latest gambit in the relatively small, but very profitable executive level segment in Brazil.

Now, let’s clarify a bit. Executive level cars in Brazil are the same (with some extra Euro-offerings unknown in America) as those known as compact cars in North America. However, price tags are very lofty. Fancy a Civic? It can be yours for R$62,500 or US$34,700 (this and all the following prices gleamed from Brazilian car mag’s website Quatro Rodas). How’s about a Civic Si? It’s down at the dealer waiting for you and your obese check of R$97,000 or US$53,900. Let’s see something very ho-hum…I know, a VW Jetta. It can be had for R$81,400 or US$45,220! How does a Citroën C4 Pallas strike you? Bigger than the Japanese, it’s a relative bargain at R$58,900 or US$32,720 (according to Citroën’s Brazilian site). So the brand-new, not even on sale yet, Renault Fluence seems promising in the market. It starts at just R$60,000 or US$33,333 according to the Brazil’s Quatro Rodas.

To further clarify, I must dimension my affirmation of Renault’s sorry situation in Brazil. Though some would beg to differ, as Renault has made a comeback of sorts (thanks to the Dacia Logan/Sandero cheap twins), it was once in a much better position than now. At the end of 2010, Renault seems to be just back at the position it carved out for itself ten years ago (as Brazilian readers of this site know. The late 90s was the time when, for a while, the Scénic was the car, or in this case, le voiture to have). In other words, when the Brazilian car market opened up in the early 90s, Renault was one of the first ones in. It was rewarded for its agility. Brazilians soon put it in fifth place in sales. Sometimes it would just be breathing down Ford’s neck. However, Ford launched the EcoSport, which saved its bacon. Renault also made a series of strategic mistakes it’s still paying for dearly now. Namely, it decontended its cars and didn’t bring the price down proportionally. It also is (to a large extent) brought down by its reputation of having expensive replacement parts. So, though Brazilians are relatively comfortable with Renault’s mechanical reliability now, they still shudder at the thought of maintaining one over the long run.

This is where Nissan comes in. Though Nissan itself has not had the success of brothers Honda and Toyota, they’re still seen as a Japanese company. That still merits them (basically) a free pass from the market of (mostly) ignorant consumers. They think these cars will never break. They are Japanese after all and all that. Something keeps pulling them back though. Nissan has almost never broken the 1 percent market share in Brazil. Both Honda and Toyota hover at around 3 or 4 percent, sometimes doing better. Well, that’s enough to dominate this particular market segment. The executive class. Brazilian style.

Nissan’s magic (or collaboration) comes via their engine. Finally, they donate it to a Renault product. Both mills are quite similar in final output. Renault’s old engine (gasoline only) is good for 138 hp. Nissan’s makes 140hp out of gasoline and 143 out of ethanol. So where’s the difference? It’s all in the delivery. Nissan’ iteration packs a lot of technology that Renault’s engine was missing. And yes, the driver does feel it. Renault’s old lump was quite a lump. It weighed more and was much thirstier.Not only that, but the transmission is pure Nissan. Out goes the old 4-speed Renault auto, in comes Nissan’s much more modern 6-speed. Higher trims will also get Nissan’s CVT, well-known to you in the USA as the Sentra’s primary “shifter”. So now the Renault Fluence is up on par vis-à-vis the Japanese. Will it be enough?

This, BTW, gets my two thumbs up. Finally, much in the vein of my recent positive review of Peugeot’s 3008, these changes show that the Frenchies are now realizing half-measures will not do. Even in Brésil. Now, if you put your heart (and your best parts) into it, you’ll find favor. At least with those of us who pay attention to the automotive world.

In the you-really-don-want-to-know-dept: Neither French Renault nor Japanese Nissan designed and developed the Fluence. This is the child of Renault’s little known South Korean subsidiary, Samsung. Yes Samsung. Renault bought Samsung’s auto division a while back. This is the first international offering to come from that investment.

Who said globalization can’t work? Here you have a Korean engineered, largely from French and Japanese part bins, not to mention Renault’s old C platform (which serves the new European Mégane), already on sale in Argentina (where Renault enjoys a strong reputation) and on sale in Brazil in February 2011. Equipment level, pricing, styling and size have all been improved. Will this new Korean-blessed-with-Japanese-parts-French-car be enough (sorry for all the hyphens, but what would you do to describe it?)? Or will the Japanese continue with their stranglehold of this market segment?

From all I’ve read, and from what some journo friends are saying, this car is worth a visit. Would you favor it over the Japanese?

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One Comment on “Renault Fluence: Maybe Some Japanese Magic Will Help Renault’s Sorry State in Brazil...”


  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    IIRC, When Roger Penske was negotiating to buy Saturn from GM, those were the cars he was going be selling as the next generation Saturns. Ghosn killed the idea because he did not want to compete with himself.


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