| PARIS, July 4
PARIS, July 4 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
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