Last week we poked a stick at PSA’s sector-D saloon offerings to see if there was any life in them. Today we cast a glance towards their domestic rivals and ask how Renault can keep churning out Lagunas at a loss of around €3,500 a pop?
Last year, Renault sold 16,019 freshly minted Lagunas across Europe and given it probably isn’t offered in too many markets outside the territory, that’s probably about as good as it got. What keeps Renault shooting themselves in both feet when on the face of things, more successful players are picking up sticks and leaving for good?
The Laguna hasn’t been offered in the UK since 2012; the primary reason for this being that nobody was buying them. There were a number of significant factors at play; amongst them being the collapse of the C-D sector in the face of overwhelming competition from the German prestige brands added to the current model’s somewhat lumpy aesthetics. But the primary reason has to remain the spectacularly skewed legacy of its immediate predecessor.
Renault launched the second generation Laguna in 2000 as part of a similar movement upmarket that produced the Avantime and Vel Satis. The model shared its floorpan with Nissan’s contemporary Primera and featured styling based upon that of the well regarded and thoroughly excellent 1995 Initiale concept. Laguna-2 was a very handsome motor car and probably the most credible large Saloon Renault since the 25; certainly the most thoroughly resolved of the Patrick le Quément-era. Good looking, comfortable in time-honoured French big car fashion and with its five door hatchback or ‘Sports tourer’ estate bodies; spacious and versatile. Fitted with a range of engines from 1.6 litre fours, up to a 3.0 litre V6, there was a Laguna for just about every budget. Renault didn’t skimp on safety either, the model being amongst the first to achieve a full 5-star result in Euro-NCAP safety tests. Technology was also a major selling point; Laguna featuring keyless entry and all manner of electronic gizmo’s for the owner’s comfort and above all, convenience.
All of which was just dandy except that Renault engineers skimped on development and componentry because the full list of potential Laguna-2 issues would run to several hundred more words than either you or I are likely to have the stomach for. The litany of woe does make for truly horrifying reading nevertheless. Items like a fault with the automatic transmission preventing Renault from delivering four cylinder models until two years after launch. ECU’s regularly malfunctioned or failed completely causing Which Magazine to call on Renualt to recall the model. There were turbo failures, gearbox problems – (a common Renault failing), brake pedal and heating system failures. More bizarre faults included wheels warping for no apparent reason and a design fault causing a recall because owners were unable to attach child seats to the ISOFIX mountings.
The Laguna was initially a strong seller on the strength of its looks, practicality and overall appeal, but as reliability issues mounted, the car’s reputation plummeted. In 2005, Renault essentially relaunched the model, with significant changes to the appearance and specification with fresh assurances from Renault that the problems of the earlier models had been resolved. While better than its immediate forebear, it rapidly became clear Renault hadn’t expunged the car’s failings. It isn’t overstating matters to describe the Laguna-2 as amongst the least reliable cars of recent times, scoring second from bottom in the 2002 Which reliability survey of cars up to 2 years old. It was also the 4th least reliable car in a 2007 Warranty Direct reliability survey with a reported 55 faults per 100 cars in addition to coming 4th from bottom out of 137 models in a 2003 Top Gear survey.
The current Laguna-3 was pitched as a quality car aimed at more upmarket rivals when it launched in 2007. Renault made much of its improved fit, finish and material quality, saying they had listened to owners unhappy with the previous model’s failings. But they badly misjudged the car’s appeal and its positioning, being forced to price it a good €5000 less than anticipated. According to analyst, Max Warburton of Berstein Research, the Laguna was “a poor product that fell flat on its face” According to their figures, the model lost over €1.5bn to date and a loss of over €3,500 per-unit.
Following the model’s withdrawal from the UK market in 2012, Renault continued to offer the model in the Republic of Ireland – in fact it appeared on Renault’s Irish website until late last year, although I can’t believe any were sold. A bizarre situation, given that the main point of pulling it from RHD markets was to reduce costs. The Laguna III sold in decent numbers in the Republic, but was eclipsed by the smaller (and cheaper) three volume Fluence, which proved a more compelling sales proposition – although it too is faltering now.
With auto magazines now showing speculative renderings of a forthcoming Laguna replacement, it appears Renault are not quite ready to surrender the D-segment to their rivals just yet. But without the benefit of the Chinese market to bolster sales, Renault will struggle to make useful money on a car such as this. Having rebadged the Samsung SM5 for the European market to no great affect, Renault is facing a massively shrunken sector and will have no choice but to once again convince buyers to pay a premium price for a mainstream product. Renault have faith their Initiale Paris designation will prove sufficient to lure customers out of PSA’s less than stellar D-segment offerings, but can they convince anyone else?
Memories are long and it will take considerable time to banish the legacy of the attractive but fatally flawed Laguna-2. A good start would be to consign the Laguna nameplate to history, but either way, the journey back to credibility and increased sales looks even rockier over at Boulogne-Billancourt than it does at their bitter rivals on Avenue de la Grande Armée. In fact, it may already be too late. Despite a 4.1% rise in French car sales last month, Automotive News yesterday reported the bulk of the increase has been made up of non-French marques. Oh dear.
Sources/quotes/data: Automotive News Europe/Left-Lane.com/ANDC/JATO Dynamics/Honestjohn.com