Fade Away and Radiate

Renault has made a name for itself as a monovolume specialist. This must change.


Recently, we highlighted Ford’s retreat from the Euro-minivan sector, amid a rapidly contracting market for such vehicles and FoMoCo’s own fiscal woes across the region. However, the blue oval is far from alone in viewing this segment with jaundiced eyes, with news breaking more recently that owing both to falling sales and the advent of the newer and more crossover-ish C5 Aircross CUV to the market, Citroen is ceasing production of the short bodied SpaceTourer (aka Picasso).

Having previously declared the compact MPV sector for Renault’s Scenic, further study however reveals that the real 2018 winner was in fact the VW Group, who arguably had the good sense to offer two different nameplates (if similar looking vehicles) under Touran and Sportsvan nomenclatures. Combining these model’s sales for 2018 would place Wolfsburg decisively ahead of Billancourt.

As carmakers such as Opel, Ford and Peugeot exit the sector, the likes of segment stalwarts, Citroën, and Renault look set to battle in ever-decreasing circles with the finger-in-every-pie VW. What appears evident is that for these ‘mainstream’ carmakers, their more compact minivan offerings are most likely to experience that unmistakable feeling of cold steel upon their necks, assailed from both compact crossovers (well, isn’t everything?) and a two-pronged assault from BMW and Mercedes. (Ditto)

Curiously however, while BMW offers its unlovely 2-Series Tourer in both short (Active) and long-tailed (Gran) derivations, Mercedes have opted for a different approach; its new generation B-Class being primarily a five-seater, while its forthcoming GLB sibling will be offered as a seven-seater, suggesting a certain hedging of bets in Sindelfingen.

The likelihood appears to be that the seven-seaters from the French duo and VW will for the time being prevail, before these too gradually decline as demand across the sector finally hollows out.

(c) DTW

But while VW and to some extent, Citroën currently offer variations on the now traditional monovolume box on wheels (the double chevron offering more in the style versus substance stakes), Renault has with its current Scenic, attempted to marry the monospace’s virtues – interior room, visibility and versatility – with more of a coupe cum CUV aesthetic. An MPV perhaps for those who deep down really wanted a large crossover.

It’s an arresting looking thing, seen here in Grand Scenic form (has anyone actually seen a ‘normale’ version in the wild?), but one does have to wonder if the attempt at differentiation has been worth it, even allowing for the sales numbers, which of course only tell part of the story.

Renault sold slightly over 90,600 Scenics of either stripe across the European region last year, a drop of 15% over 2017, which although significant amid a sector-wide loss of 20%, was still notably less than that of its major rivals. However, with figures from this year also showing a further downward trajectory, brows must be furrowed at Quai le Gallo.

As a European pioneer of the MPV format, Renault has perhaps more skin in this particular game than its rivals, but it could equally be argued that they simply have too many competitors at play. But as the bloodletting continues unabated, a monospace reckoning of some sort must be in the offing.

2016 Renault Espace

In addition to both Scenic models, not to mention all or any van-based Berlingo models, Renault also offer the range-topping Espace. Boulogne-Billancourt delivered just under 12,000 Espaces last year, a significant drop on the year before and one which suggests that its market appeal is fading – or that it’s being cannibalised by the Grand Scenic, which after all, isn’t dramatically smaller or less useful – simply cheaper.

One wonders what product decisions Thierry Bolloré will take once both Scenic and Espace become due for replacement in the next couple of years? Perhaps a combination of sentiment and heritage might be enough to keep the axe at bay, but the smart bet is on at least one nameplate fading away. The question that remains is which?

Sales data sourced from carsalesbase.com

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

13 thoughts on “Fade Away and Radiate”

  1. Monobox vehicles are now regarded as unfashionably “mumsy” and the market instead demands “butch” SUVs instead, hence the steep decline in sales. All of which makes this all the more surprising:

    VW has chosen an MPV format for its first stand-alone EV. Does this format lend itself particularly well to the packaging of EV battery and drivetrain hardware?

    1. Would you really call this an MPV? Looks like a fairly standard hatchback to me, albeit a slightly bloated one.

    2. Sure this is a VW and not the new Picasso? (A-Pillar, wheels, even the lights – smells French! And not even a round badge…)

    3. its quite interesting to see how far ahead of the styling-curve the toyota auris was when it appeared in 2006.
      i remember it being mocked for being heinously ugly by the press, but when you look at the current hatchbacks they almost all copy the windowline and overall bulbous shape.
      just look at the c pillar of that I.D – its all over the place nowadays, and its lifted straight from the auris.

    4. Hi, Laurent. I think Max has already answered your question on my behalf!

      Seriously, it could easily be a smaller sibling to the Espace. The front DLO treatment and bonnet to windscreen transition is pure MPV, don’t you think?

  2. Someone around the corner from my house has got a new B Class. To be honest, I never thought I would ever see one because people don’t buy this type of car anymore. It’s so bland and curiously rounded that it’s kind of like one of those identity-kit cars which insurance companies seem to think they need to create for their print and TV adverts. If ever a car needed a bold feature-line or two to pull it together, this is it.

    1. Yes, Mercedes-Benz’s recent designs seem to be stripping back on the polarising slashes and creases a lot, but what’s left behind is, in some cases at least, very bland indeed.

  3. In Germany the non-Grand Scénic appears to be the more common appearance than the Grand Scénic. I see a few of the former on a good day, one of the latter in a good week.

    Which I find a shame. As the latter, I must admit, I think of as one of the visually most appealing new cars on sale at the moment. It always turns my head! Lines, wheels and surfaces have not worn off any of their drama in my eyes. It looks to me how the TGV must have looked when it was first revealed. Very distinct. Very French. Voilà.

    I wonder how much the Kevin Spacey Espace campaign (that I found rather witty at the time) hurt sales in the medium run after the actors reputation was badly damaged in the wake of nasty me-too-revelations…

    If practicality was what I was after I would chose a monovolume over a CUV any time of the day. Oh average car buyer, what a strange animal you seem to be…

  4. On my last trip to France I saw a lot of Scenics, and the ratio of Grand v standard was probably in the region of 5:1 – maybe more.
    I would guess the same applies to the VW offering. Note that – in the UK at least – the Sportsvan is marketed as ‘Golf SV’, suggesting a blown up Golf rather than a MPV.

  5. Some octogenarian neighbours of ours have recently traded in their old grey Mk2 Scenic for a new one, in that funky metallic orange colour with the standard fit 20″wheels . They look amusingly incongruous, pootling along in it, although I do fear for the alloys on the narrow streets in our town.

  6. Eóin, with that title, are you spoiling to become the Sir Antony Beevor of automotive criticism?

    1. Robertas: Only if there is an knighthood in it. I rather fancy turning it down.

      Perhaps that would that make me the Alan Bennet of automotive criticism, or would that be a question of attribution?

  7. As Max said above, few cars turn my head as much as either of these Scenics. Sublimely beautiful cars and just for their scarceness, something I’d lust after. But alas both too light to be suitable for my needs.

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