Renault Sport’s Jean Calcat has his work cut selling the Megane RS
Motor News recently caught up with Jean Calcat, overseas market sales GM of Renault Sport (RS) Cars, during his visit to SA.
The visit coincided with the Festival of Motoring at the Kyalami Racetrack.
Having worked at Renault for the past 20 years in various capacities, Calcat says his exposure to international markets involved a stint during which he worked with one of the major independent Renault distributors in the Middle East.
Prior to joining Renault, he worked for the Benetton Ford F1 team’s marketing division in the early 1990s, prior to Michael Schumacher joining the team.
Calcat is therefore a car guy with solid credentials in sales and marketing, but his current role is exciting and daunting — exciting because the company has some great cars in its line-up, including the recently launched Megane RS; daunting because that particular vehicle squares up with the ubiquitous VW Golf GTI in SA and Calcat needs to convince the local market to consider his Megane RS a worthy alternative.
The Renault Sport brand has a strong presence in Argentina where the Sandero RS (yes, you read correctly) is their best-selling model, Calcat says.
Japan is another notably strong market for RS cars, Calcat says, with the Clio particularly having a healthy footprint.
Of the 7,000 Renaults sold in the land of the rising sun, 1,500 were RS variants, he says.
The SA market remains an important one for RS models as it was previously the leading market for RS outside Europe and he would very much like it to return to those heydays.
Remember the Twingo RS? Well, not many people do and we do not blame them. Calcat says it was a rather difficult model to market under the RS banner as they struggled to get finance from the company to build more than the initial 20 units, which meant that the project was dead in the water.
"We have learned our lessons from that project because pricing and marketing that sort of vehicle meant small profit margins and we were not particularly competitive either," Calcat says.
As a result the latest Twingo, which is available in some overseas markets, is headlined by a GT variant, essentially a lukewarm version and not the full-fat RS article.
RS Cars produces just 50,000 units for global consumption, which is a drop in the ocean compared to its German rival, but Calcat says plans are afoot to ramp up production.
It was along those lines that I quizzed Calcat about whether we are likely to see Renault move into the performance SUV segment like many other performance brands have done in recent years.
There are indeed talks about the subject, Calcat discloses, although nothing has yet been cast in stone.
"We remain number one in handling and roadholding, so to make an SUV that would retain those hallmarks presents a new challenge for us.
"There is also the matter of higher centre of gravity and an engine that will cope with the inherent added weight of this type of vehicle," says Calcat.
While he was not outright forthcoming about the project, judging by the way the performance SUV market is going we think it is only a matter of time before we see a performance SUV from the French marque bearing that RS acronym.
For those with an even stronger desire for performance hatches, Calcat says plans are afoot to bring to SA the next-generation version of the Megane RS Trophy R, which is an out-and-out track-focused hatch that’s even more bonkers than the already frothy Megane RS Trophy, which will arrive in SA in 2019.
The possibility of bringing the Megane RS Trophy R to our shores will hinge on market demand, Calcat says, but a glint in his eye as we part ways makes me think we may just be in for a treat in this regard.