One of the amusements when holidaying in exotic countries has always been (for petrolheads anyway) spotting local versions of cars that the maker has long since stopped selling in your home market. Go to Columbia for example and you’ll see the Mk2 Renault Clio, first produced in France in 1998, with a modern facelift (not a great look).
But western car makers monitoring these emerging markets are starting to see a new sophistication among buyers. They no longer want hand-me-down motors. They want newly developed cars with modern features like smartphone connectivity. And they also don’t want to pay any more.
General Motors and Renault-Nissan are reacting, particularly in India – a market with huge potential but also one that’s highly price sensitive. Earlier this year in India Renault launched the SUV-styled Kwid A-segment car on a new platform dubbed CMF-A, the low-budget small car architecture that next year will also underpin a Datsun version. Further models are planned. Renault admits that even the Dacia Logan platform, derived from old Renault underpinnings, was too expensive for the country.
Meanwhile GM recently announced it will spend $5 billion to develop and build a new range of “technology-rich” small cars with Chinese giant SAIC. Once again India is a prime target. As with Renault, it’s about reaping savings from sheer numbers. “In order to provide the feature and content level, we need to come at this…from a different level of scale,” GM President Dan Amman told Automotive News in July.
Renault calls its approach “frugal engineering”. Developing a car in a way that’s both fast enough to react to market changes and cost-effective enough to challenge often entrenched competition when it comes to market. Expect to see digital prototyping come to the fore as part of that approach.