Why is Renault struggling? In the UK particularly their performance of late has been nothing short of disastrous, despite the downturn. Putting the obvious gloomy economics aside Renault has had it hard over the last few years which can be attributed to a number of factors. It could be at a high level and be blamed on the breakdown of talks when Renault and Nissan engaged with General Motors to embark on a potential alliance, or could even Renault’s colorful President Carlos Ghosn be to blame with, some say, his overly ambitious new model plans causing the diminishing numbers of workers left at the Renault Technocentre to pop out at lunchtime and commit suicide.
Or is it the cars they build? Or more specifically a result of the poor reputation for expensive running costs and abysmal depreciation figures that Renault has steadfastly built up over many years?
Well we can only really guess on the political wranglings that must be occurring within the Renault hierarchy at the moment but it would be safe to say that there is probably a lot of shouty French flying around the boardroom. And we know that the company published those all too familiar figures for the first half of the year clinging to any positives and basically saying that we’re losing money but at a less greater rate than we thought we would-yippee!
The end product we can comment on. And let’s face it unless you have the misfortune to have bought a Renault to use as your everyday transport which disqualifies you from having an opinion, we all know they’re all pretty rubbish. Let us take the main offender the Laguna, Renault are by no means alone in dishing out silly names but it’s a terrible name if ever there was one. These normally innocuous three syllables summon up satanic like fear and loathing into just about any motor trader. The moment that word gets mentioned you can sense trade buyers physically shrink by two inches. The reason for this is that, as human beings, we all like to know roughly our position on this planet when it comes to risk versus reward; crossing the road to get to the other side or getting in a plane to go on holiday. The fact of the matter is that the mere act of entering into any form of transaction involving a Laguna automatically throws that person into a parallel world which knows no boundaries of expenditure. You are stripped of any mortal power in this altered state as it is controlled by alien electronics that endlessly snap at your cheque book to help the evil Laguna beat you once again. Don’t think for one moment you’ve bought a cheap car as this is futile, there is no value in a Laguna, particularly for cars produced between 2000-2004, as Renault at this point, for reasons known only unto them, decided to declare war on their customers. They used an army of Laguna’s to further destroy their own reputation over vehicle electronics and the field of battle was to be the service department. There are many worn torn traders who will tell you to stay away from the one they call the Laguna, these cars are basically evil and were only produced as an ingenious instrument to extract cash from unsuspecting humans who thought they were buying a chic French family saloon.
Sounds a bit dramatic? Fortunately for me, I listened to everyone else and steered clear of Lagunas and Renaults generally and was at that point, unknowingly all the better for it. I regret to say though that I did succumb on very few occasions through sheer desire for variety. Looking back now at that time, roughly three years ago, I can only guess that my cocksure self felt that all the German cars that I bought and sold were too boringly reliable and profitable so here’s the idea, lets mix it up a bit and take on a couple of these cheap Laguna’s, surely they can’t be that bad?
Two and half years old, 22,000 miles, full Renault service history, high spec, good colour, mint and less than half book. The sort of purchase that makes you want to leave the auction and browse through skiing brochures looking for a holiday to be paid for by sale of one car. See that’s how they first get you, you are warmly welcomed into a world of false profitability. The problems start when you first get in it and attempt to drive it, not easy with its odd card ignition set up. Awkwardly situated and fantastically flimsy this system is totally unnecessary and ergonomically offensive. I remember reading around the year 2000 about this ‘ingenious system’ that wooed the motoring press at the time, its amazing how motoring journo’s bang on about new things with no thought for future ownership as now in this rainy auction car park to replace this crumbling plastic card thingy, a normal key would be just fine.
Ok car drives well, the antithesis of German motoring with its harsh engine but smooth ride; it feels light and airy and still has a new feel to it, all for £2,350 and booking with higher mileage at a miniscule £5,200. Back seats and spare wheel unused, non smoker and it doesn’t even need a clean! I’ve just go to get it sent to my diagnostics guy for the engine management to be reset which must be why it cut out a couple of times at the lights on the way home. Soon it will be ready for a very healthy trade profit or a holiday paying retail one.
You can probably guess what happened next, those fateful words from the diagnostics, ‘main dealer only’. Despite this I’m still feeling fine, after all what could I be looking at 1 hours labour? Maybe £75 tops? Again of course the tale goes further west ‘£1,255 plus Vat for the engine ECU and we noticed your water pump is leaking so that’s another £458 plus fitting plus Vat.’. With this news from the service advisor, I still manage to breathe a sigh of warranty fuelled relief. ‘No, ECU’s and the water pump are not covered on the third year warranty and anyway you will have to have the £450 service in order to reinstate that as it’s nearly due.
How could this be on such a new car with such low mileage? I put it to the service advisor who reels off a seemingly scripted and non committal explanation of it being a common problem and telling me they ‘do’ 3 or 4 per week. So there we have it my bargain of the week has diminished in value by the amount of the special ‘We’re the only people who know how to do its French fixing’ now needed. It’s gone from being worth £2,350 to £4.20 in one brief phone call and I, more importantly, now hate it.
Where there’s a will there’s a way and a phone call to a French bloke who fixes French cars in St.Albans tells me he can do it and he can save me a lot of money. The water pump and the ECU will now only cost me £1,800 all in and what’s more he tells me in a positive manner that he can do it by the end of the month even though it was already the 3rd. He was ultra busy as he did 3 or 4 of these per week, do you see a pattern emerging?
I was so enormously underwhelmed by this news that I drove the offending vehicle straight back into the auction to be entered into the less populated Saturday sale and braced myself for the Laguna sized pill that was heading my way. Two weeks later I receive a cheque back for exactly £1,851 just another victim eaten up and spat out by Renault and its evil Laguna.
An isolated incident perhaps? No. here’s a list of Laguna recalls of that special vintage:
Mar 2002: Engine speed control issue.
Mar 2002: Engine may cut out on cars built from Oct 2000-June 2001.
Mar 2002: Concerns over fuel leak and emergency brake assist.
Nov 2002: Surge on 1.8 16v petrol cars built from May-July 2002.
Sept 2003: Unintended acceleration on 1.8 16v and 2.0 16v models built from May 2001-Oct 2002.
Sept 2003: Unintended acceleration on 1.6 16v from Jan 2001-July 2002.
Nov 2004: Erratic engine revs on cars built from Sept 2002-June 2004.
Tragically the Sept 2003 glitch may have managed to cause a few serious accidents but they think they’ve got it sorted now.
Surely it’s natural to assume that issues like the above have only served to exacerbate the problems within Renault. It seems that it happens all too often that manufacturers run into difficulties as they get too involved in marketing their image, new products and producing show stopping concept cars whilst foregoing the all important after sales service and used car market. We often see some brands shy away from their embarrassing used car cousin in the hope that potential customers will be so dazzled by their Formula One image and what new shiny cars they now have on offer, that they will ignore the lack of longevity that their family cars of three years ago are displaying today. Cars just should not be as disposable as Renault think they can make them. The service advisor who dealt with me was so dismissive of my woes. It was as though I was outraged that my 200,000 mile 1985 Renault 25 wasn’t quite running properly. To nonchalantly present me with a quote on a low mileage car less than three years old to the tune of the whole net value of the car itself is enough to put anyone off a brand for a lifetime.
As much as I despise the Laguna there is another point of discussion surrounding the above account that relieves some blame from the car itself. Renault workshops are in my opinion one of the worst culprits of sealed unit replacement theory. This is where a car goes into a workshop and instead of fixing a problem components are only ever replaced with new. This serves the dealer and manufacturer very well as it means no expensive skilled engineers are required, just fitters with special tools only available to Renault. The parts department benefit as more new components pass over the trade desk into the workshop and outrageously the jobs get charged by the full recommended amount of time whilst the actual work is completed in a fraction of the time, as the 19 year old lad gets slicker with his special spanners.
BMW on the other hand, like all German manufactures, are ahead of the game. They realise that the above method, devalues their secondhand cars and therefore their brand and only serves to annoy customers. Its not often we recommend a specific dealer but I recently took a relatively ancient 2002 325Ci Sport into the excellent Stephen James of Enfield with a faulty electric seat motor and an engine management light. Sounds expensive eh? They took the seat out and fixed the electric motor, reset the engine management light, cleaned the car and charged me £110.00. There is no comparison in the sales service and no comparison in the car.
So the above reason is enough for me to steer clear of any Renault full stop. Although Renault would rather pretend we do not exist, we do have a voice at this end of the motor trade and we all talk and talk gets heard by potential buyers which is most definitely one good reason why Renault is struggling. Oh yes and they’re as dull as dishwater too.