Dacia CEO: Why we are more than just a ‘low cost’ brand

Europe

Dacia, Renault Group’s Romania-based budget-priced brand, has revamped its lineup substantially in the last year. Slower-selling models based on old platforms like the Logan MCV station wagon and Lodgy minivan have been replaced by a tightly focused range: The Spring EV minicar, the new Sandero/Logan small cars on the modern CMF-B platform, an extensively refreshed Duster SUV for 2021, and the coming Jogger seven-seat family car, also on CMF-B and with the brand’s first hybrid option

Denis Le Vot, a veteran Renault-Nissan Alliance executive who leads the new Dacia/Lada business unit, discussed how Dacia is making the transition to electrification and why it’s more than just a “low cost” brand with Automotive News Europe News Editor Peter Sigal at the Munich auto show.

Dacia’s lineup is nearly all-new this year, with the Spring EV and new Sandero launched in 2020, a facelifted Duster, and now the new Jogger. Are you hoping to outperform the market and gain volume?

We have done a decent job in the first half of the year; Sandero is the best-selling car on the retail market (in Europe) and the Duster is the best-selling retail SUV. So we are doing well for what we are, which is a retail brand.

Our industrial capacity is already quite well utilized. We are more or less at full capacity at our Romanian plant with Duster and the new Jogger, but somewhat fewer Sanderos, because they are manufactured on a large scale in Tanger, Morocco, for the European market. We have even started Sanderos for non-European markets at our second Morocco plant in Casablanca. So we do not have a target for market share, but what is important is that we remain in a good position in the retail market.

Even though the base price of the Duster is 11,990 euros, for example, Dacia sells many vehicles in higher trim levels. Is that something you are looking to build on?

This is the reality, but not the perception. You read that Dacia is a “low cost” brand, but I do not consider it that way, in the sense that we sell only to people who will spend minimum amounts of money on a car. For example, yes, the Sandero starts at a price of 9,000 euros, but then we have the crossover-ish Stepway version with more features, and it starts at 12,000 euros. Seventy-five percent of Sandero sales are the Stepway version. So it’s not that we sell the cheapest cars in our range; it’s that whatever Dacia you choose it’s a great bargain compared to the competition. 

The Jogger is not really a station wagon; it’s not really a people-mover. Who are your buyers?

I like the fact that it’s not really clear from the styling. But our proposal is clear: This is a family car. It starts with the five-seater version, which has 700 liters of cargo capacity, which is huge. You can easily fit two bicycles inside plus luggage. So if you travel with four or five people it answers most of what we had with the Lodgy and the Logan MPV. At the same time, it’s a real seven-seater. The third row seats weigh only 10 kg, so you can take them out or move them just like a pack of mineral water. You can use it to go on vacation with a family of seven. Of course the trunk is more limited but you can use the roof bars, which fold inward to make a rack, to carry your luggage on top.

So the Jogger offers everything that is typically Dacia, but it’s on the [Renault-Nissan] CMF-B platform [designed for small cars], which means that it weighs only 1.2 tons. The seven-seat competition will be derived from a cargo van or be a full crossover, so they will be much heavier, 350 or 400 kg more. That makes a difference because we can move the car with a 1.0-liter engine. Our dual fuel LPG offering has a 1,100 km range with 121 grams per km of CO2. The weight of the car permits a small engine, and we can offer this at less than 15,000 euros. 

You will have an E-Tech hybrid version of the Jogger. How are you able to offer hybrid technology at a Dacia price?

People ask what the Dacia secret is, what we do that the others do not, and it’s a combination of things: The way we sell the car, that there are no rebates, that we choose the specifications carefully. But there is another thing, which is that we do not make the same car at the same time in Renault Group, for two brands with a cheaper version and a higher-priced one. We came out with the CMF-B “high spec” platform for the Renault Clio and Captur two years ago, but we came out with a totally revamped version six months ago for the Sandero, with new electronic architecture, with everything optimized for Dacia. 

But the important thing is it has the same roots. So if the base engine is not enough to meet emissions regulations, then we can take E-Tech hybrid technology off the shelf, and because the Jogger is on CMF-B, we can just copy/paste and install it in the car. By the time the E-Tech Jogger goes on sale (in 2023), the technology will be four years old, so the cost is completely known, and development partly amortized. 

Can we expect an E-Tech Sandero in the next few years, then?

Sure, why not? I think it will come. In 2035 we’ll be full-electric anyway [because of expected EU regulations], so between now and then, the only question is when.

Would Dacia skip plug-in hybrid technology for cost, complexity and weight reasons and go straight to full EVs?

I can’t tell. We will have to see what the [coming] Euro 7 regulations are going to be.

Are there any untapped markets for Dacia?

Geography-wise, we are not looking to grow, as we are well established in 44 countries. But we have to grow in terms of product range and brand image. In the UK, we could do a better job. Germany’s another example: We are not bad in the segments in which we play, but Germany is a C segment [compact] market, it’s not an A or B [minicar or small] market. We have stretched the CMF-B platform to make a comfortable C segment size vehicle [with the Jogger], and then the Bigster [compact SUV due in 2024] will be another pillar there for us. So instead of investing in Australia, for example, let us concentrate on a real C segment offer with the Bigster.

How are you building a relationship between Dacia and Lada?

Dacia in Europe is somewhat similar to what Lada is in Russia. That is, offering essential content at great prices. A popular car for the masses. We are going to install the CMF-B architecture  in Russia, so all the next generation Ladas will be on CMF. That will mean a lot; we’re a 600,000-car-a-year brand in Europe with Dacia, and Lada is about 400,000 cars. So we will have 1 million cars on CMF between the two brands. 

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