The Renault Clio has been injected with renewed Va Va Voom thanks to an appealing mid-life refresh, but its long-term future in the UK is unclear, the brand’s British boss has admitted.
Renault plans to electrify its entire model line-up in the UK by the end of this year, which means from 2024 all Renault cars will be either pure-electric, full hybrid or plug-in hybrid.
The new Clio E-Tech, which is available in the UK exclusively as a full hybrid, will sit with a number of hybrids alongside existing and new pure-electric models, offering customers a choice of powertrain options.
The brand already has a Clio-sized electric car in the form of the well-established Zoe, which last year sold 5,000 units in the UK and is “selling well” in 2023, according to Renault. Next year will see the introduction of the Renault 5 EV — a highly-anticipated pure-electric hatchback that will compete with the likes of the electric Fiat 500 and Mini Electric. A small electric crossover called the Renault 4 will follow that.
With the UK government’s ban on petrol, diesel and hybrid cars from 2035, and new electric models filling Renault’s line-up, there are question marks over whether the Clio name will survive beyond 2035.
Speaking at a London event marking the global launch of the new Clio E-Tech, the brand’s UK country head and managing director Guillaume Sicard told Driving.co.uk that the current strategy is clear but the long-term future of the model is unknown.
“We all know about the Renault 5 and the Renault 4,” he said, “but by 2035, once [the UK] will be 100 per cent electric, I don’t know what will happen with Clio. I don’t even know if Renault knows yet, to be honest.
“For the time being, the [Renault] strategy on the UK is very clear: it’s 100% electrification. On one side, we have a line-up with hybrid, on the other side we have a line-up with electric. So we’ll always sell a hybrid [small car] alongside the electric while the regulations allow it.”
Tough times for small cars
The small car market has been challenging for a number of manufacturers in recent years. Although large sales volumes can be achieved, small cars have smaller profit margins than the likes of crossovers and SUVs, which happen to be among the most popular for buyers today.
It was for this reason that Ford, when faced with supply constraints, decided to end production of its Fiesta — a direct rival of the Clio — to concentrate on “growth models” such as the Puma, Kuga and a growing electric portfolio. This is despite in 2022 the Fiesta becoming the best-selling car in the UK ever, with nearly five million units having been sold.
But the demise of the Fiesta could be a ray of light for the Renault Clio in the short term. This morning Laurens Van Der Acker, executive vice president of corporate design at Renault, said:
“[One] thing which is interesting for us … some of our legacy competitors are pulling out of this segment. So this will also help us to grab a bigger bite of the market, if we can. We feel very strongly that with the double offer of hybrid and electric [models], we will be able to cover a large part of the market.”
A potential lifeline for hybrids?
Another factor that could influence the future of the Clio is the emergence of e-fuels — liquid fuel that can be used in conventional combustion cars and, if created using renewable energy, can be carbon neutral.
Some believe it to be a good alternative to electric vehicles while others point out that transporting it and burning it in an engine is still harmful to the environment, even if the carbon emitted is simply returned to the air.
Supply at present is also tiny compared with the number of cars on the road, and e-fuels will remain extremely expensive unless production can be scaled up to the same levels of petrol and diesel.
“A lot of people are talking about e-fuels,” Sicard told Driving.co.uk. “We’re looking at it as well, obviously. Now when you look at the energy required to produce e-fuels, in terms of costs, it’s still quite challenging. So that’s an opportunity that is very interesting, from a technical point of view, [but] from the costing point of view it remains very challenging.”
No high performance Clio
Sicard also confirmed that there are no plans for a high performance version of the current Clio. Previous generations of the model have received track-focused modifications from the Renaultsport division, though that was officially dissolved in 2021. In future, sports-focused Renaults will be engineered by Alpine, though it will concentrate on pure-electric models; the first being the forthcoming Renault 5.
“A top, top sport version on Clio, no,” said Sicard. “But actually, the driving is quite sporty on this [new hybrid] one, with the torque that the car has, but also the design. Clio remains Clio with a sporty look and sporty touch in terms of engine, but there is no Renaultsport or full Alpine being developed.”Follow @wdron Tweet to @wdron
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