Vive la Clio Renaultsport!
To be successful in business you need to be willing to take risks and perhaps most notably, provide a product or service to the consumer they didn’t realise they wanted. Henry Ford once famously affirmed, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Regardless of their size and success, companies don’t always get it right. Take Virgin, for example. In 1994 Richard Branson decided he wanted to take on the giants Coco Cola and Pepsi. He launched Virgin Cola. A soft drinks company, which he envisaged would have a global presence. However the combination of Coco Cola greatly upping its marketing budget, and Virgin Cola failing to offer anything different to the consumer, crushed Branson’s dream. By 2009, Asda, the last retailer to stock the beverages, decided to discontinue the line due to poor sales.
History is full of examples of some of the world’s most recognisable companies ‘getting it wrong’. Mighty Wings were McDonalds attempt at squeezing in on America’s popular fried chicken market. Hungry Yanks considered McDonald’s spicy poultry offerings inferior to the Colonel’s finest. Just over a decade on the market, the big execs realised it was time to ‘pluck them’ from the market.
And this (sort of) leads me on to French automobile manufacturer Renault. For years known for producing practical, safe affordable cars. Whist their class-leading, performance division ‘Renaultsport’ has adhered to a simple mix - lightweight, plentiful power and subtle aesthetic enhancements. Over the years the French recipe has proved un grand succès.
Thanks to its Primark price tag, the Renaultsport Clio has been the best-selling vehicle from the performance division. Regarded as the benchmark in the junior hot hatch market, demonstrating an abundance of power is not essential to have fun. In June 2013, the latest incarnation was launched on English soil, the Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo, was one of the year’s most eagerly awaited cars.
Unexpectedly, first impressions were not great. Purists were incensed by Renault’s decision to restrict the little titan to automatic transmission, deeming the new car as lacking driver involvement. Combined with the news that the car was only available in 5-door guise - sacrilege. Though quicker, better equipped and far more efficient than its predecessor, critics simply couldn’t look past its perceived flaws.
Following two years of disappointing sales, Renault decided to re evaluate the ingredients. A host of changes followed for the revised Renaultsport Clio, now badged as the 220 Trophy. Most significantly, power upped to a feisty 220bhp, and sharper gear changes through the pair of chunky F1- style paddle shifters.
Renault took a gamble when they restricted the latest take on the Holy Grail to five doors and automatic gearbox. Result, the range topping Clio is a scarcity on our roads. While Ford archrival, the Fiesta ST - ubiquitous.
When discussing lessons learnt from Virgin Cola, Branson recites “Virgin only enters an industry when we think we can offer consumers something strikingly different that will disrupt the market, but there wasn’t really an opportunity to do that in the soft drinks sector”.
The Renaultsport Clio is distinctly different to its competitors. Arguably - a cut price, miniature touring car. Although, it is evident drivers still lust for a wholesome ‘old-fashioned’ manual gearbox.
The latest generation performance Clio is unlikely to be the most lucrative vehicle for Renault’s coffers. But, if car companies didn’t take risks and experiment then the automotive world would be a boring place.
Vive la Clio Renaultsport!