I’ve driven some very expensive cars in my time. Last week I was behind the wheel of a £171,000 Bentley Continental GTC V8, but that pales in to insignificance compared to the alleged £6.5 million worth of hydrogen powered Honda FCX Clarity I drove last year. I’ve driven powerful sports cars, massive luxury cars and piloted quite a few racing cars of various sorts.
Cars excite me. I’ve sold a couple recently so my own fleet is down to five cars. Right now you might think I’m arrogant and have some sort of superiority complex, but I promise you I’m not and I don’t.
You see all cars interest me. Of the five I currently own, three are worth less than £500. Right now the new cars exciting me most come from Romania and will cost less than anything else on the market.
Dacia will soon be arriving in the UK and, if they get their advertising right, might be taking over the lower end of the market.
The Duster, a decent size and good-looking SUV, was announced some months ago. It’ll start at £8,995 when it’s finally available, undercutting literally everything else in the sector. Even the good value SsangYong Korando will set a buyer back at least another £5,000.
Sitting in the Duster, it’s obviously been built to a price with some rather hard and shiny plastics, but it’s all bolted together exceptionally well. It feels tough, more like a child’s toy rather than a plastic cup from a vending machine.
It’s not the last word in style, but it’s got a chunky, solid and modern style to it. It looks reliable too, which will go a long way with potential buyers.
There’s also no doubt that you’re getting a lot of car for your money; it’s a car every bit as big as a Nissan Qashqai but costs less money than a Nissan Micra.
If you don’t want an SUV, the Sandero has also been announced recently. This is a family hatchback slightly larger than a Ford Fiesta or Vauxhall Corsa, but priced a full £1,000 less than a Perodua Myvi. Sensible grown up motoring now starts at £5,995.
There are drawbacks to the Dacia range, obviously. At the entry-level you get a choice of any colour you like as long as it’s white. Apart from the bumpers, which will be black plastic. Don’t expect a stereo either, although they’ve been generous and included the wiring for one.
There’s also no need to get excited about the engine choice, with the Sandero starting out with a 1.2 petrol engine putting out 75 bhp, while the Duster gets a slightly beefier 1.6 petrol motor with 105 bhp.
Pay extra and you get a choice of trim levels, engines, colours and everything else you’d expect. I’m not sure that driving round in an all-leather, climate controlled Sandero with alloy wheels and metallic paintwork is quite getting in to the spirit of the Dacia brand, but the fact is you can spec the cars up if you wish.
Ignore the options list though and the fact remains that you can buy a capable family car for less than the cost of a three-year old Volkswagen Polo.
At that price it’s hard to understand just how Dacia can make a car, let alone turn a profit on it, but they expect that over 90% of buyers will upgrade from the entry model to something where you don’t have to wind the windows up yourself so perhaps there are good margins higher up the ranges.
Technically Dacia have been in the UK before, with the original Duster being sold here in the 80s, but to most it’s a new brand being established.
It reminds me very much of Proton in 1989. The brand was launched to an unsuspecting public at the Birmingham Motor Show just as we were in the middle of a recession. The value offered by the dated but still good enough rebadged Mitsubishi’s caught the imagination and the brand took off. Within two years the cars were winning awards and there were hundreds of dealers.
As the economy improved, the likes of Hyundai and Kia became the budget cars of choice and Proton slowly faded away. Although still going, you’d be hard pushed to even name a new Proton, and with sales of around 20 cars a month now that’s no surprise.
I’m in no doubt at all that the time is right to bring Dacia back. With Renault money and guidance behind them, there’s every reason to believe that they can take a significant share of the market in that area now abandoned by Hyundai and co.
Dacia could even spell the end of imported brands such as Perodua and Proton. It could even cause some trouble for MG, whilst it’s also likely to take sales from its parent at Renault, something Dacia has already achieved in Germany where it holds a larger market share than the French manufacturer.
Winning the first war of establishing the brand should be easy then. Keeping it alive when (or if) the economy recovers and the credit fuelled lifestyle of many kicks back in to life will be a much tougher battle.
If they can pull it off, Dacia might just have started a revolution, and one I want to be a part of.
Traiasca revolutia, as they might say in Romania.