PARIS – The press conference at which CEO Carlos Ghosn revealed Renault’s new Espace CUV drew the largest crowd Thursday at the Paris auto show, trumping the debuts of concept cars from French competitors Peugeot and Citroen.
The car is important for the French automaker. The people mover it replaces sold 370,000 units over its long life, but “very few recently,” says Jean-Francois Reynaud, marketing chief for the Espace.
The Espace is Renault’s only luxury vehicle since the Vel Satis disappeared several years ago.
Reynaud does not reveal his volume expectations for the car, which does not go on sale in France and Europe until next spring. Ghosn has been striving to add upscale models to the Renault brand, and its association with Daimler and Nissan’s Infiniti is expected to help.
That vehicle was conceived and manufactured for Renault by Matra, then an engineering firm. The body was made of plastics for its first three generations, which suited its low volume. In 2003, Renault took over production with the model that is being replaced, using stamped steel bodies as the automaker planned on reaching higher volumes. That gamble didn’t pay off, and Matra went out of the manufacturing business.
Now the fifth-generation Espace returns to plastic for the fenders and tailgate, while the door panels and hood use aluminum.
The use of plastics may not be a tacit admission of lower volume expectations, as manufacturing methods have reduced production times and plastic today is often a cost- and weight-saving solution for parts such as tailgates.
The new Espace, which is as long as the stretched version of its predecessor, is 550 lbs. (250 kg) lighter.
The CUV rides on a new platform shared with Nissan that in the future will be used by the next Megane and other vehicles. It will be built at the Douai plant in France, with the Scenic and a future B-segment vehicle.
Although the Espace has been redesigned with a CUV silhouette, lower and sleeker and more aerodynamic, it will be offered in a 7-seat version as well as a 5-seat. “Espace is one of our most celebrated names,” says Reynaud, so the tag was kept even as the segment changed.
The interior takes an upscale approach with a central 8.7-in. (22 cm) touchscreen that handles most adjustments for the car with iPad-like controls that sweep pages away and shrink or expand images.
Elsewhere, choices such as sport or comfort driving affect not only the suspension, pedal feel and steering wheel precision but also the interior ambience. Driving in comfort can include a seat massage for the end of a long and tiring day.
The car offers flexible cruise control and hands-free easy parking, but it is not heavily oriented toward the future of autonomous driving with new driver-assistance features.
The Espace will offer three 1.6L turbocharged engines, diesels making 160 hp and 130 hp, and a gasoline engine with 200 hp, mated to a dual-clutch 6- or 7-speed transmission. All use stop/start technology.
Ghosn says Renault expects to sell only 8,000 units of the current Espace this year, and the new one needs to grow step by step.
In the past, he says, “In the premium market, our goals were far above our achievements. Now, we want our achievements to be above our goals.”
The new Espace initially will not be sold in right-hand-drive markets such as the U.K. or outside Europe. “We are being pragmatic. Let’s make sure we are delivering” before expanding.