By on September 27, 2012

The Paris Auto Show is about to kick off tomorrow, and some of the product set to debut has me cursing myself for not maxing out my Visa on a flight and a room at the lovely hotel that’s walking distance from the Porte de Versailles, where the pretty girl with crooked teeth sits patiently at the front desk. And how could I forget the wizened gran-mere hovering over the table at breakfast, replenishing your plate with cheeses and baked goods that one could never hope to find at Publix?

Alas, I am not part of the A-List club that gets driven from the Georges V to the Expo Hall in an S-Class, and so rather than sucking down a Gauloises or getting a glimpse of Carla Bruni (I was blessed with such a privilege in 2010) I’m stuck in North America, having to use my brain rather than just repeating back what my PR minders told me over a glass of Cotes-de-Rhone

The same people who are attending the show on the Sponsored Content plan will no doubt be running beautifully shot feature articles on the Jaguar F-Type, the McLaren whateveritscalled and the new Range Rover. I wish I was there to see them all, but I’d probably give them a once over at the show and then wait another 6 months for them to crop up in Forest Hill Village on a Sunday morning.

What I’m really interested in is the low end flotsam that we won’t ever get.Car makers can be put in one of three categories nowadays; low-cost, volume and premium. In Europe, volume car makers are getting pulverized by the godawful economic conditions on the continent. If you’ve read TTAC for longer than a week, you have seen at least one story about this. It’s arguably been the overarching narrative of 2012, and nobody is getting hit harder than European car makers. Peugeot Citroen is closing plants in France, Ford is hemorrhaging money, Opel is shrugging off the hand of the grim reaper.

Premium cars, buoyed by markets outside of Europe, are doing better, but even Mercedes-Benz is predicting falling profits and cutting costs to the tune of 1 billion euro in 2012. The shining star in Europe is the low-cost car, and to me, the Dacia Sandero is the most compelling car at the Paris Auto Show. Aside from its 15 minutes of fame on Top Gear, the Sandero’s story is so complex and politically loaded that even if the car was an irredeemable piece of garbage, it would still be fascinating.

Dacia was bought by Renault in 1999, and in 2004, the Logan was launched as a low-cost world car. Since then, roughly 1.8 million units have been sold, as buyers in emerging markets flocked to the Renault-engineered car that sold at Lada pricepoints. Later on, Dacia has launched the Lodgy minivan and Duster SUV, which have been critical and marketplace successes, with sales up 16 percent this year in an absolutely dreadful European market. In fact, Dacia has been so successful, that they’ve even been accused of cannibalizing sales of their big brother, Renault.

As if that weren’t pouring salt into the wounds of an ailing domestic car industry, Dacia products are now being built in the former colony of Morocco, where workers are paid 13 percent of what a French Renault worker makes.The Moroccan plant is said to be capable of exporting 85 percent of ts 400,000 unit annual capacity, and most of those will end up in Europe. In a country where immigrants from the Maghreb still struggle with their role in French society, this is, to put it mildly, a controversial issue.

Trade unionists and newspaper columnists have cried foul about the low wages and the outsourcing of jobs that have led to the erosion of the French middle class lifestyle. The outsourcing of low-cost vehcle production has led to the demise of good jobs – but the very people who hold them are unwilling or unable to buy a new mainstream car as it is. They want the low-cost Dacia, the one that could never be sold so cheap as long as they are built by workers making 1,800 euro a month and taking 5 weeks paid vacation. The whole situation is an interesting allegory for the decline of the state-subsidized “la belle vie” that has been enjoyed in Post-WWII France.

All that for one little hatchback that is slow, boring looking and will sell for under $10,000. Isn’t that more interesting than an 800 horsepower McLaren? I think so.


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54 Comments on “Never Mind The McLaren: Why The Dacia Sandero Is The Star Of The Paris Motor Show...”

  • avatar

    I was scared this would be a boring rehash of a bad joke from Top Gear, but was very interesting, thank you for the refreshing read.

  • avatar

    Good News!

    isnt this the question of our age? the west wants cheap but decent goods and no one cares how or where they’re made… whether its ipads or cheap sub C segments… do you care if your little Fiesta is made in Fiesta-land Mexico?

    Our market is saturated by Thai made cars as it is… China is about to come too and in 5yrs time I reckon they’ll decimate the Koreans and Japanese let alone the west…

  • avatar

    I find the Sandero an interesting vehicle because while it is an economy car, the car is not a low quality, cheaply engineered thing. The body is strong, the motor is reliable and the interior materials are durable. So boring, yes, rubbish… no.
    In economically stressed times this is not the car you want but it is the car you need.
    This should explain the cars success and any bitching about that should be ignored.

  • avatar

    I hope the US market gets more base model (manual transmission, roll up windows, 13″ wheeled) runabouts in the near future. We could use a few sub-$10k sticker cars running the streets.

    • 0 avatar

      My local Dodge dealer had nothing but MT Darts on their lot at first, but they got rid of all of them to make room for automatics.

      We live in a culture that demands more toys; there are very few Spartans among us who actually buy basic tin-can vehicles. And most people don’t even know how to drive a MT anymore.

      Besides, the mfrs don’t make money on the basic cars; they make money on the added toys. The MT cars are presented as loss-leaders to attract customers with low prices for cars nobody wants.

    • 0 avatar

      If anyone ever does, you won’t hear about it over the cries about how you should just buy a ten grand used car.

      Not that I’m against the car you speak of – it mostly describes my daily driver, except for the godawful automatic. It’d be a tolerable car with three pedals.

  • avatar

    I wonder what this car would cost if it was made in France? Labor is a fair expense, but compared to the cost of the land the factory occupies, raw materials, taxes on raw materials, shipping said materials to the factory and cost of waste disposal. Compare all that to the same costs of operating out of Morocco.
    The French labor unions would have you believe it ALL ABOUT screwing the worker but that cannot be the whole story.

  • avatar

    Great article, Derek. I only disagree with you that it makes it more interesting that the McLaren.

    You used the Sandero to discuss the fascinating aspects of our recent history in what relates to politics, economics and others.

    One could use the McLaren (or any other car now that I think about it) to discuss other equally fascinating aspects of human existence such as the developments of science, technology and engineering, marketing, economics too. And I guess if one digs a bit deeper, there is some socio-economic story behind it as well.

    On a separate note: how is that hotel you linked walking distance to the Porte de Versailles? It’s in Ile St.Louis! It’s got to be over one hour walking time.

  • avatar

    I guess the Sandero would be cheaper than the homemade Renault cars anyway, even if it was made in France. Dacia cars are designed to be cheap. The Mk.1 Logan had the same rearview mirror in both sides of the car, for example.

    The brazilian-made Sandero, Logan and Duster are honest propositions in their segments – well, maybe the Duster isn’t since they are charging almost Tucson money for it. But they are all about the cost, and cannot be compared to anything Renault produces down here. The brazilian Clio II and even the Argentina-made Symbol are better finished.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve seen both the Symbol and the current Clio II built in Argentina and trust me, they are far worse than the Logan and Sandero. The Symbol has cheaper plastics than the current Logan (not sure about the original 2007 model though) and the guys at Renault have cut corners on the Clio II, to the point the new facelifted model coming this year will get Soviet-style build quality (there are rumors that the new Clio II won’t be built with the processes necessary to prevent rust). Believe it or not, the only actual Renault in South America with a quality that surpasses Dacia is the Fluence, but even that model got issues. Renault in South America is basically the new Lada. Even Chevrolet didn’t fall as low as Renault did with their Clio II facelift.

  • avatar

    James May was right – I knew it!

  • avatar

    “Dacia products are now being built in the former colony of Morocco”

    Which is a very good reason not to buy them, no matter how cheap or how good quality they might be. It’s bad enough that Western nations have to import oil from Islamic countries, there’s no point in relying on them to produce the cars as well.

    • 0 avatar

      You mean like the Islamist Republic of Canada, the Caliphate of Mexico and or the Emirate of Venezuela?

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Claw

      what, perchance, does a country being “Islamic” have to do with the incentive to buy?

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      Yeah, Morocco.

      The first nation to recognize the independence of the United States.
      The longest-running peace treaty that the United States has is with Morocco.
      Their response to the Arab Spring were Constitutional reforms, not a beatdown of the people.
      Their response to the protests over that dumb YouTube video and the killing of the US Ambassador was to send diplomats to the State Department to improve relations with the US and find out how they can help stabilize the region.

      So obviously, all muslims are bad and instead of trying to help them improve their really really bad economy through international trade, we should bomb them or something.

  • avatar

    My thinking may be flawed, but by providing jobs in Morocco, does Renault make it likely that fewer people will feel the need to leave that country for better prospects?

  • avatar

    “the outsourcing of jobs that have led to the erosion of the French middle class lifestyle”

    The problem is that the French have come to expect a lifestyle that was never actually feasible. Despite punitive asset taxes and a 48% payroll tax, the state hasn’t been able to pay for its promised services in four decades. Throw in insane employment regulations (35 hour workweek, anyone?) in a globalized marketplace and it’s a wonder that France has any jobs left at all.

    • 0 avatar

      isn’t this pretty much every 1st world western economy?

      everyone wants an sub 40hr a week office job, doesn’t want to pay taxes but wants free healthcare, subsidised Volts and someone else should pay for it…

      i remember a politician here saying not everyone can be a winner… maybe 7 out of 10 people will get tax cuts but the 3 out of 10 has to pay for it

      the fact is i think western society isn’t able to pay its bills with the amount of people who are actually working… and the bills are mounting and the debt being kicked down the road

      • 0 avatar

        Ah, no. You just have to keep costs under control and tax income adequate. A good place to start as well is to ignore any economic advice from the U.S and Britain as it will stuff your economy up completely. That goes for pundits from both the left and right ( and Libertarian/Objectivists as well)

      • 0 avatar

        @Tony: No. @Leather is right.

        It is almost impossible to do what any ‘Murrican would recognize as ‘business’ in La France.

        -Especially from the labor standpoint. The regulations are impossible, the benefits are impossible; and once-hired, firing anybody is near-impossible.

        Also, mostly due to their 223-year-old-hangover, Ze Franch HAAATE Rich People and Money, so there is just about Zero incentive to be an Entrepreneur;

        -now where is Alanis Morisette when I need her to remind me that word is a French one?

        But, to their credit:
        Healthcare costs & MD-Compensation, etc. are not nearly as high (our nearest competitor is Der Schweiz at 25% of our cost), and I never saw anyone dropping dead in the streets b/c it was only $20 to see a doc.

    • 0 avatar

      They should be able to afford their lifestyle simply by avoiding the albatross of a $1 TRILLION defense budget. Canada manages to give their citizens a good life with a similar tax rate as well as a large union contingent. It can be done, TTAC’s political views notwithstanding.

      • 0 avatar

        Completely agree, olddavid. I love TTAC, but I hate the almost unchallenged flood of pro-oligarch ranting in the comments.

        I swear, sometimes I think the posters believe they’re about to inherit a billion dollars.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s the American fantasy – someday, I’ll be rich too. Which has grown ever more remote possibility over the last 30+ years.

        The best part is that even the new “oppressive” inheritance tax doesn’t apply until you get a little over $5MM. Then it’s an “obscene” 35%.

      • 0 avatar

        Might have to do something with the embarassing riches of raw materials that Canada enjoys…

      • 0 avatar

        olddavid – YEP! Is spent six years in the Navy. Amazing what it costs to keep that running. Off the coast of Haiti back in the mid-90s and they were burning thousands of gallons of race fuel in the SEAL boats – dual big block engines in cigarette type racing boats patrolling the waters of Haiti. The Navy was air dropping fuel for them. At that point I realized that it didn’t matter how much fuel I personally used or conserved. They used more in several days than I had used my entire life at that point.

  • avatar

    Derek, I sincerely think this is some THE best automotive journalism I’ve ever read (especially when paired with your July 16th article delving into the politics and economics of the French auto industry).

    Kudos to you for truly outstanding work.

    We should get Skodas, Seats & Citroens (the C6 would be my whip of choice, if I didn’t get a sensible Skoda Yeti first), but we don’t, bitches…we don’t!

    And it’s a CRIME!!!

    • 0 avatar

      The USA, Canada and Europe (at least) ought to standardize the safety and air pollution regs thus allowing us working stiffs to buy whatever we want to buy. Of course the car industry (Detroit anyhow) would choke on that idea. Remember our gov’t still has the “Chicken Tax” on the books since the 60s. I
      d love to have a ~76 mpg VW Polo TDI. Great fuel economy minus all the hybrid stuff that still worries me ’cause it might break at some point and send the entire car to the junkyard b/c it’s too expensive to fix.

      • 0 avatar

        Quite the opposite the Detroit 3 are big supporters of standards harmonization. Just look at their organizations they are apart of in regards to the EU US free trade. All of them support Mutual Recognition as a start.

        NTHSA doesn’t really seem to care about harmonization to be honest. The un/ece regs have changed over time to allow things that us cars require like side retro reflectors, and side markers. Not so much with NTHSA.

  • avatar

    hard to make a comment with out it being political..but what happens when we run out of the Morocco`s of the world to build our cars?

  • avatar

    every country ultimately strives to better itself and hope for a better life for its citizens

    i think there will be a day where Africa and South America gets up and becomes industrialised perhaps with the gentle prod of china

    there will always be a country for someone to exploit/industrialise

  • avatar

    Dear sir, as a Frenchman who fights for labour market reforms, innovation, and compettiveness, I applaud that fantastic summary of the situation in France that you just described. It’s an excellent politico-economic summary of a complex socal situation, and cements TTAC as being head and shoulders above other car blogs and publications.

    Thanks again

  • avatar

    “All that for one little hatchback that is slow, boring looking and will sell for under $10,000. Isn’t that more interesting than an 800 horsepower McLaren? I think so.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I mean, who in the world can afford one of those things, especially in this economy? Even if one has the resources, why?

    You just explained the entire success story of the original VW Beetle, Citroen 2CV and many, many other “slow, boring looking” cars. I drive what’s derided as a boring car, but I’m enthusiastic about it, so that’s all that matters!

    • 0 avatar

      +1 on the Beetle analogy, Zackman.

    • 0 avatar

      I own a ’65 Beetle and a ’78 VW Westfalia. The supercars are cool but there is fun to be had in a slow car too where the fun comes in spending time with friends going places and doing things on the cheap like day trips. Even in my mid-life with kids I still appreciate that. Bread and butter cars have their attractions. Beetles are fun cars to drift around mtn roads at low speeds. 30 mph in a Beetle can be right at the limits of traction in certain conditions. I once had a load of five people in my Beetle years ago and we were leaving a cookout across a smooth wet field and I did some long 20 mph drifts – smooth as glass – and the whole car load was cackling like a bunch of little kids. We were safe as could be ad having stupid fun. Hold the stoners jokes, we were all active duty military. Beer was involved but i was not drinking that night. Supercars are fun too in their own way but I’m a working man. Not likely to put down $750K on a car in my life nor do I admire the ones that do.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    “Dacia products are now being built in the former colony of Morocco”

    Just like the British must feel, that a former colonial possesion now owns one of their flagship marques of yore.

    The time will come when our government becomes fed up with GM stock, and shares are purchased by a Mexican billionare (Carlos Slim ?), making him the largest shareolder.

  • avatar

    [email protected]: Strange how the slightly-jacked/snaggletoothed chicks like Jessica Paré only seem that much more charming and attractive because of it, eh?

    What was that Francis Bacon ~’Beauty and Strangeness’-thing again?

  • avatar

    Going back to the car…. is it totally wrong that I want one?

    I wouldn’t mind having a cheap stick shift punt around car for the commute… miss having a 3rd pedal.

  • avatar

    All this will be water under the bridge once the 123 car makers in China rear their heads. The flood is coming, and the historical willingness of not just Americans but people all over the world, to reward makers of basic reliable vehicles with our hard earned dollars will be repeated again, and this time in spades… Thats the joke of it all, once everything is said and done, it will be the 10-15 Chinese mfgrs that are still standing in 35 years after the 100+ that exist now are winnowed out.
    Water under the bridge…cars under the underpass…spilled milk…sour grapes… we may as well just write all the stories now, 35 years before it actually happens. Its a natural cycle. Hard working people making decent products for affordable prices… its iphones and ipads now, soon it will be c-cars swamping our shores. And we will learn to love them as we learned to love VW Bugs and Civics and Camrys… Its inevitable. The T was 1st… then sooo many others had their turn, and we loved them all just as ardently.
    And the nuances of a 5 series understeer vs a Lexus’ 18 speaker stereo just doesnt matter in the long run. Not to the bulk of buyers anyway. The final race hasn’t been run yet, but we all know the outcome. And the real race is still 35 years off. Maybe only twenty … who really knows. Its life, what the heck… with the right sense of humor it can still be fun, and funny. Its just cars already. And we get so emotional invested in it all. It’s all pretty funny stuff actually.

  • avatar

    You know it’s cheap cars like this one that redefine the cheap cars we get in the US from certain manufacturers. Why does cheap have to be ugly? It seems obvious to me that certain manufacturers try to make the cheap cars ugly b/c they want to make their expensive cars more desirable.

    “Look – the flagship car is really, really nice looking AND it’s SO much better than the economy car!”

    How long can this game be played until some “other brand” arrives with something that is small, cheap-ish (low cost) and good looking? Then the certain brands are stuck with ugly economy cars that nobody will touch with a ten foot pole.

    I wonder if at one time the cheap cars weren’t as durable or reliable as the flagship cars. Then some economy car from Japan or Germany wrecked that pecking-order. Next we’ll see cheap cars that are good looking. And that will wreck the next pecking order. Eventually what’s left to differentiate the cheap from the expensive? Sound proofing? Extra gears? Leather vs cloth?

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