Matt Prior: How wine killed the Renault Koleos

Some manufacturers struggle to sell big cars. We all know this. Even as an expensive Citroën saloon like the C6 is launched, and even while Citroën admits it’ll sell in the “hundreds, not thousands”, we’ll all smile and nod. And surely be aware that catastrophic depreciation is just around the corner and that, in 20 years, we’ll silently admit, the only people buying them will be bearded club members and motoring writers.

For C6, see also Renaults various: Avantime, Vel Satis, Safrane, Laguna. In the UK, we spared the Talisman the same fate. Remember the Peugeot 605? There’s a reason Lancia makes nothing bigger than the Ypsilon and Fiat nothing larger than the Tipo.

The rufty-tufty SUV was meant to change this. A big French saloon not quite for you? Have you considered a Peugeot 5008 or a DS 7 Crossback instead? Some have been successful.

But that is not, alas, a fate reserved for the Renault Koleos. Just three years after Autocar’s road testers received an ear-bashing from Renault execs about our verdict, the UK car-buying public has spoken and decided the Koleos is not for them. The Koleos is being withdrawn from the UK after selling fewer than 1000 units in 2019.

Which might give some executives sleepless nights. French and Italian car makers know fairly well which way the wind is blowing on big family saloons, but not SUVs. These boundary-crossing, imageconfounding creations were, still are, the European car industry’s beacon of profitability.

And the SUV, crossover, 4×4, whatever is the acceptable face of big cars from countries where they drink more wine than beer. Drink beer – Germany, Britain, maybe Sweden – and you can sell big saloon and estate cars with no image difficulty at all. Be a wine country and, well, I really don’t know why, but the car-buying public prefers it if you make little cars. The Renault Clio. The Fiat 500.

The problem with this is that a small car costs just as much as a big car to develop, just as much to equip its factory, and almost as much to make each individual one. And then just as much to ship it and prep it and sell it, but the selling bit has to be at a far lower price, so it is critically less profitable. I don’t yet know how this particular – still perennial – issue gets solved.

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