Now that Renault’s Scenic has got a buff new body, will everybody want one?
We auto-purists are a tough lot to please, applauding the likes of Renault for creating practical, sensible and versatile car designs which the market promptly shuns. Stung by the lack of acceptance, they attempt a redress and we throw fruit. Last week saw a debate take place here around the merits of the just-debuted Renault Scenic. Without being scientific about it, I’d call the consensus a broadly positive one, but with a mildly grudging undertone.
But let’s look for a moment at the wider picture. According to the ever-diligent left-lane.com, sales of compact MPVs’ rose 4% last year, but this rise was accounted for by new entrants to the market, masking an underlying fall across the sector. There’s little point bemoaning the fact that monospace sales have stagnated. Image sells and the image surrounding such vehicles has become one of surrender. Thanks to the wonders of marketing, crossovers avoid such stigma, so the idea of morphing the two is probably worth trying.
Along with VW’s recently launched Golf Sportsvan, the main growth in the sector came from Munich; BMW’s recent 2-Series Active Tourer achieving a 605% sales lift (from zero), placing them straight in at number four, behind the Golf, outgoing Scenic and Citroën C4 Picasso respectively. With France being the largest European market for monospace vehicles, the success of the new Scenic will matter, especially if its new positioning and more emotive styling chime with buyers – as it’s likely to.
The past is a foreign country all right. In a 1986 interview, BMW’s then engineering chief, Dr. Wolfgang Reitzle, told journalist Jesse Crosse; “Clear statement, BMW will not use front-wheel drive in the future on any model.” Oh dear. By releasing the front-wheel drive Active Tourer, BMW have abandoned their heritage, a decision that must have been hotly debated within the company. But to do so with a car styled in such a half-hearted manner suggests either utter confidence, or a staggering disdain.
No fan of the Active Tourer’s styling am I then, but I’m not alone. Autocar damned it with faint praise when they drove one last year, saying; “The success of BMW’s styling effort can be debated. Our conclusion is that the overall result isn’t brilliant, but its very acceptable.” This begs the question whether the 85,760 customers who left their BMW dealer with one last year did so despite its appearance, or because it looked as they expected a BMW should?
Dropping straight into fourth place in the first year on sale over the hunched shoulders of Ford, Opel, and Mercedes-Benz is quite an achievement. But I do wonder how much better those figures would have been had BMW had imbued the Active Tourer with some visual flair? Because if you’re an embattled volume maker like Renault it behoves you to try harder, whereas for BMW is it enough to merely show up?
I’m confident Renault’s new Scenic will rapidly assume top-spot in the European (not so) compact monospace market, not only because of its racy appearance, but since it’s the new kid in town and the rival Citroën has been around for a year or two. But if the Renault’s lead proves to be sufficiently robust, it’s likely the next Active Tourer will be a more dynamic looking device. “Grafting a sporting identity on to a car like this is a fools errand,” said Autocar last year, but surely the crossover pandemic says otherwise?
I believe the opposite is true and that for the monospace to survive it must adapt. The new Scenic shows the path it will likely take, but what’s the betting BMW will take the spoils?