Renault's Clio revamp takes "Latin" swing at Fiat

Mon Jul 9, 2012 5:27am EDT
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By Laurence Frost and Jennifer Clark

PARIS/MILAN (Reuters) - Fiat's bosses might feel flattered by their French rival Renault's new Clio, which practically shouts "viva Italia". But with nothing new of their own to match it, the Italians are in no position to boast.

The new version of Renault's bestseller, with its black concealed door handles, two-tone interior and low-slung look, is an homage to Italian style. And that spells more trouble for Fiat, which won't have a new Punto for at least two more years.

The revamped Clio, previewed in flashy red and yellow on Renault's website, will challenge Fiat's Punto and 500 models when dealers in France and Italy begin taking orders next week. It joins an updated Volkswagen Polo and a new Peugeot 208.

"All the main Punto competitors have had replacements, but Fiat is falling further behind," said Philippe Barrier, an auto analyst with Societe Generale, who noted that the new Renault is "very fluid, a bit Italian, with a more aggressive front end."

The fourth-generation Clio - a "faux-coupé" five-door that looks like a sportier three-door - is the first complete design by new style chief Laurens van den Acker, hired from Mazda three years ago to make the fading Renault brand sexier.

He is aiming for a "more Latin, more sensual" style for Renault, to distinguish the namesake brand from the "Germanic, functional" aesthetic of the firm's own low-cost Dacia marque, he said last week. The new Clio is all French, he insisted, but he doesn't mind the Italian comparisons.

"Renault is a French brand, and France is a Latin country, so it only made sense for us to look for inspiration in French elegance and human and Latin sensuality. True, Italian brands are inspired by the very same things, and I am delighted to see that the new Clio conveys almost Italian emotions."

There are certainly plenty of flourishes that will be familiar to Fiat admirers.   Continued...

Workers leave the Revoz factory that produces cars for Renault in Novo Mesto March 24, 2009. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic