Caterham plans more Renault-based cars-chairman

PARIS, July 4 Thu Jul 4, 2013 9:10am EDT

PARIS, July 4 (Reuters) - Caterham is developing a crossover SUV and a subcompact car with Renault, Chairman Tony Fernandes said, in an ambitious bid to transform the niche UK sports car maker into a global premium player.

The models may be launched soon after the first sports cars due in 2016 under the Caterham and Renault Alpine brands, Fernandes told Reuters ahead of a Thursday board meeting of the carmakers' new joint venture.

Both carmakers want to use their Formula One presence to win a following for performance models. Fernandes, the founder of AirAsia, bought Caterham in 2011 and controls the F1 team of the same name, powered by Renault engines.

"Sports cars will do well but the city car and SUV are what the (Asian) market really wants," Fernandes said in an interview. "If we get the SUV right it will be huge."

Caterham hopes to emulate the success of the Range Rover Evoque, he added. Runaway sales of the sporty crossover have boosted profit for Jaguar Land Rover and Indian parent Tata Motors.

Renault unveiled the joint sports car programme with Caterham in November, along with an agreement to sell a 50 percent stake in its Dieppe plant to the airline tycoon, creating the Alpine Caterham venture.

The additional Caterham models would be based on Renaults and shipped in semi-finished form for final assembly in Asia, Fernandes said, adding that the French automaker may decide later to offer its own Alpine versions.

Renault confirmed it was carrying out a "feasibility study" with Caterham on the new vehicles.

"This is a project for the Caterham brand based on a Renault platform and destined for Asian markets," a company spokeswoman said. "There is currently no plan to extend it to Alpine."

Renault Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn has predicted initial production of "several thousand" Alpine and Caterham sports cars annually, but Fernandes said potential volumes were much higher for the crossover and mini.

The joint venture deal was signed only last month after outline terms were agreed for renewal of Caterham F1's engine deal with Renault, Fernandes said. "We needed to ensure the F1 engine deal was aligned."

The Caterham brand is "unheard of in Asia but it will become better known as we move up the F1 grid," he added. "The new models will have Renault engines so it's important to have a Renault engine in the F1 car."

Renault, which completed the sale of its own F1 team in 2010, has signed new deals to supply engines to Red Bull and Toro Rosso and said it expects to add a third team shortly.

Caterham F1 has trailed near the bottom of the rankings in the three years since it began racing under the Lotus name, which was dropped in 2012. (Additional reporting by Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by David Cowell)

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