The Dacia revolution

Today, Dacia announced the price of the Sandero and in doing so, created a bit of a stir. At £5,995 for the entry level model, it’s hard to see just how Dacia, part of the Renault group, will actually make any money. But leaving that to one side for the moment, I reckon that Dacia is going to make quite an impact in the UK. If nothing else, the aggressive pricing strategy will certainly be ruffling a few feathers in the automotive sector.

Dacia’s arrival bears more than a passing resemblance to that of Proton in 1989. By adopting an unashamedly ‘pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’ pricing strategy and rolling out finance and warranty incentives, Proton managed to grab a sizeable foothold on the UK market. By the early ‘90s they were one of the fastest growing manufacturers in the UK and at one point had more dealers than Citroën. In 1991, Proton received the award for What Car? Best Value Car of the Year, followed a year later by the Auto Express Best Value Popular New Car. The reason for Proton’s success was simple. The UK was in the grip of recession and Proton offered a cheap and cheerful way of getting behind the wheel of a new car. Who wouldn’t be tempted by 0% finance, long warranties and proven Mitsubishi technology?

Dacia arrives in the UK under similar circumstances and could even be beter placed than Proton in the early ‘90s. Consider the facts.

Dacia SanderoThe Dacia brand has been dormant in the UK since 1990 with the passing of the original Duster and the Denem some years earlier. But to the majority of people in the UK, the brand may as well be extinct. Which could ordinarily cause quite a problem for a new brand trying to break into a new market. Especially for a brand from that automotive powerhouse, Romania.

But the task of raising awareness of the Dacia brand has, to a certain extent at least, been made easier by the old chaps on Top Gear. The simple act of sending a Sandero press pack to Top Gear was either the work of genius or a pure fluke, but the fact remains, it ensured the Dacia name made it into the homes of five million viewers every Sunday night. Not to menton the countless repeats on Dave and the use of an actual Sandero during the Romanian road trip special. The result? Instant awareness of Dacia and half the job done. Good news! (with apologies to James May).

Then there’s the economic climate. Britain is once again in the the midst of recession and consumers are tightening their belts. Retailers such as Aldi and Lidl continue to thrive, with as many as one in three of us choosing to shop in one of the discounters this year (source: Telegraph, June  2012). So a car brand that promises cheap prices and attractive offers is going to grab people’s attention.

Which bring into play the fact that for the past decade, the traditional value brands have been chasing the premium dream. Kia and Hyundai continue to strive for upmarket acceptance and it’s as though playing the value card is considered to be too dirty and direct. The ‘buy now, pay whenever you like‘ mentality has created a false sense of opulence amongst car buyers and it has left a gaping big chasm as the bottom end of the market. Dacia can fill this void with ease.

Then there’s the support from Renault, which cannot be underestimated. We’ve already seen the full page ads for the Duster in the Sunday papers and I suspect that the Sandero will receive similar levels of exposure. Dacia will also benefit from the new engines I tested last week in the new Renault Clio. The 3-cylinder petrol is characterful and frugal and the 1.5 dCi is economical and refined. Both winning formulas.

Rear of Dacia SanderoAt it stands, it’s hard to see where Dacia can go wrong. The Duster’s almost unanimous critical acclaim is now translating into awards and the chatter surrounding the Sandero would rival that of a new supercar. As long as Dacia stays true to its principles and retains its unashamedly value-driven stance, I predict Dacia picking up quite a following. Perhaps the only note of caution comes in the press release where Dacia claims that ‘two thirds of buyers [will] plump for the top-of-the-range versions’. For me, once you start adding bits of trim and expensive options, the Sandero loses some of its unique appeal. At £7,995 for the 1.2 16v Lauréate version, it’s still cheap, but it’s no longer brilliantly cheap.

Dacia Sandero AccessFor me there’s only one Sandero of interest and it’s the base spec, solid colour Glacier White on beautifully simple 15″ Gobi steel wheels for just £5,995. There are next-to-no toys, meaning you’ll need to wind the windows up and down yourself, unlock the doors using a key in a lock and manually adjust the door mirrors. You’re not even treated to a light in the boot and your passenger will have to do without a vanity mirror in the sunvisor. How refreshing. It’s just a shame that you can’t have the 3-cylinder engine without upgrading to Ambiance trim.

Dacia stand at the Paris Motor Show 2012I’m yet to drive either the Duster or the Sandero, but from what I saw in Paris, the signs are extremely positive. The interiors feel robust and fit for purpose and I have every reason to believe the running gear will be equally as good. Heck, I even loved the utilitarian approach to the Dacia stand in Paris. Simple, bright and effective.

Much will depend on the reception the cars get when they’re first shown to the general public. Will UK car buyers be prepared to economise on their new car in the same manner as their weekly grocery shopping? Time will tell, but don’t be surprised if you see a number of white and black Sanderos appearing in car parks near you in 2013. Value-driven motoring is back and it’s never seemed so exciting.

Bring on the Dacia revolution.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

24 comments

  1. October 17, 2012
    Simon Hingston

    Maybe a Skoda for the 21st century? If there’s quality in the necessary places and they can help with financing them I hope they’re really successful.

    Reply
    • October 17, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Likewise. Might need to send a Duster up to you for a proper road test! 😉

      Reply
      • October 17, 2012
        Simon Hingston

        Duster v Countryman, bring it on lol

        Reply
        • October 17, 2012
          Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

          Hell, yes!

          Reply
  2. October 17, 2012
    Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

    The rise of Hyundai, Kia and Skoda as no-longer-budget brands has been quite surprising, and it’s only happened in the space of one or two model generations. I can forgive Hyundai and Kia for it to some extent because they were never self-professed budget brands – they just happened to be Korean car brands that made slightly naff cheap cars.

    Skoda on the other hand feels like it’s outgrown itself. They make great cars undoubtedly, but they’re hardly the cheap arm of the VW empire they once were. The upcoming Rapid looks great value until you realise that engine-for-engine it’s actually a little dearer than the Volkswagen Beetle, and the Citigo is what, a few hundred quid cheaper than the Up? And the Dacia Duster has made the Skoda Yeti look positively extortionate.

    I’m genuinely excited about Dacia. And like you, I think that base models are best. Cars don’t *need* all the fancy crap they come with, nice as some of it may be. I seriously hope that in the next year or so I find myself with the disposable income to buy myself a 4×4 Duster in as basic spec as possible, with steel wheels and unpainted bumpers. I could see myself owning it for a long time.

    Reply
    • October 17, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Skoda is one to watch with interest. I can’t help feeling that they may be heading a little more upmarket. I have no evidence, it’s just a hunch, but let’s just see what they do with the new Octavia.

      Basic Duster 4×4 is hugely appealing. A Duster’s for life!

      Reply
      • October 17, 2012
        Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

        Agreed. Expect the Rapid leaves room for the Octavia to get a bit posher, and the Superb is already there.

        Reply
  3. October 17, 2012
    Ian

    I really dont think Dacia can fail here. Since the demise of brands like Lada, Yugo, FSO and with Skoda, Kia and Hyundai going upmarket there really isn’t a true budget brand in the UK.

    There is definately a market for low spec good quality cars.

    I went and had a look at the new Duster the other week. For the price there really is nothing else out there offering anything like this sort of value.

    The secret is to buy the lowest spec model in the range. If you dont……… You’ve missed the point .

    Reply
    • October 17, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      “The secret is to buy the lowest spec model in the range. If you don’t…you’ve missed the point”

      Wise words indeed! 😉

      Reply
  4. October 17, 2012
    Rafael

    I must have a very fertile imagination today, because seeing that picture of the basic Sandero, it reminded me a lot to the Porsche C88 (you know, the “people´s car” Porsche designed for the Chinese government in the mid ´90s).
    Dacia is doing very well in the Spanish market, the Sandero and Duster selling more than Renault expected, and I think they could do the same in UK market.

    Reply
    • October 17, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Oh, good call on the C88. It’s uncanny!

      Been speaking to people about Dacia in Europe and the consensus of opinion in Italy, France and Spain is that the cars are rather good. Also found a lot of fans of the Lodgy!

      Reply
  5. October 17, 2012
    Ian

    I cant help but think these Dacia’s have more personality than the Korean brands had when they were cheap. Perhaps its a love of the underdog or maybe its the way TopGear has slated them/given fantastic free publicity?

    Reply
    • October 17, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Good point. They seem to have character. Something that may come in handy when trying to win the hearts of British car buyers.

      Reply
  6. October 17, 2012
    gordon

    Top Gear free publicity……ha ha yes James Mays’ favourite car, looks like a practical car with no stupid nonsense, probably just want the average motorist needs? (but not me)

    Reply
  7. October 17, 2012
    chrischasescars

    I spent a bit of time riding around in a Sandero Stepway on a recent trip to Europe. Didn’t get to drive it, but from the back seat, it felt like a fine little car.

    Reply
  8. October 18, 2012
    willp1987

    Really enjoyed that article Gav, when you set the context of the economic climate the Sandero and the Duster make perfect sense and for the price I really don’t think they are bad looking cars either!

    Reply
    • October 18, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Cheers Will. Everything seems perfectly set-up for Dacia right now.

      Right time, right place.

      Reply
  9. October 18, 2012
    darrenvleslie

    Although I think the idea of a good quality base car is an extremely good one, I wonder if this time around, people have got a little bit used to pointless gadgets and the premium image portrayed by the manufacturers?
    I wish them every success and as said above, unless it’s the base spec, you’ve missed the point.

    Reply
    • October 18, 2012
      Peter Counsell

      Which of these gadgets do I actually need? Discuss (14 marks)

      Reply
  10. October 18, 2012
    Dave Bicker

    A wonderfully cheap motor car with few gadgets?
    And it rattles the cage of the Clarksonista faction… what’s not to love?

    Reply
  11. October 18, 2012
    aldoliddell

    Will there be a Sandero shatchback? I want a white one in base spec!

    Reply
  12. October 22, 2012
    Jonathan Kershaw (@jeckythump)

    Spot on again, Gav – it is a shame you can’t get the base model with the 0.9 engine. Still, boggo spec with a MediaNav fitted as an optional extra would do nicely.

    Reply
  13. October 22, 2012
    Ed Smythe (@Ed_Smythe)

    I absolutely love these, the less equipped the better. There’s something very pure about these cars, although I quite like the ‘Stone’ colour along with the white. Reminds me of visiting the continent and the clean looking basic spec cars in block colours without even donning hub caps. The mainland European attitude isn’t generally to offer cars with loads of spec as standard like it is over here.

    Hopefully ‘less is more’ becomes more prevalent in modern motoring; with the launch of the Subaru BRZ and Toyota GT86, both available in ‘no frills’ spec, and the top of the range models not offering infinite options, hopefully this is in some way being addressed.

    Trying to convince my partner to buy a basic Sandero, although she doesn’t want to ‘downgrade’ from her 2005 Fiesta 1.25 ‘Style’ that has no paint left on the bumpers anyway…

    Reply
  14. April 28, 2013
    Loop Withers

    Six months on from this post…and I have yet to see my first Dacia in the UK.

    What happened to the car? Did I fall asleep and miss something…?

    Reply

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