Renault will relaunch its radical Avantime in June, by which time the car will be available with a common-rail turbodiesel engine.
Only 2,300 Avantimes have been ordered since last autumn's launch in France and Germany. And 400 were for dealer stock, said Gerard Payen, Avantime project manager.
But Renault will not use a comprehensive campaign to promote the Avantime across a variety of media.
'We will stagger our marketing plan,' Payen said.
Renault just introduced a cheaper Avantime with a 2.0-liter, 16-valve gasoline engine. A 2.2-liter dCi common-rail turbodiesel will arrive in June. Renault delayed advertising until then because it expects diesels to be 60 percent of Avantime sales.
With a price of E29,150, Renault hopes the 2.0-liter will expand the Avantime's customer base. The Avantime was launched with a 24-valve V-6 for E36,650 to E41,150.
A staggered marketing campaign is right for an avant-garde vehicle that made an uncertain debut, marketing consultants say.
'You need to drip-feed it, to keep the press interested and get potential customers used to it,' said Gilly Filsner, business manager at Morpace International, a UK market research firm.
The Avantime's size makes it an unlikely coupe: it is 4642mm long and 2084mm wide, including side mirrors. It has a large glass sunroof and an oval, almost vertical rear windshield. It has huge doors - more than 1400mm long - and no B-pillar.
The unconventional design created a lot of fit-and-finish problems, delaying the Avantime's launch by more than a year. In a spring 2001 press presentation, unwieldy seat handles made it difficult to access the rear seats; the sunroof generated a lot of wind noise when open; and the door seals did not look airtight.
Renault and partner Matra Automobiles, which builds the car in Romorantin, France, missed a deadline to fix problems by the September 2001 Frankfurt auto show.
The troubled start reminds brand consultant Steve Saxty of the launch of the Ford Sierra in the early 1980s.
'The Sierra was daring in design, but dogged with quality issues,' said Saxty, executive director of Futurbrand in London. 'Turning that car around meant slowly but surely feeding the market with news about quality improvements. In the end, Ford made a lot of money.'
Renault has more modest ambitions. It plans to sell about 60,000 Avantimes during its life cycle, with 12,000 this year and 15,000 or so annually through 2005.
But executives at Renault and Matra remember that the Espace started slowly in the mid-1980s but eventually created the full-size minivan segment in Europe. The platform of the current Espace forms the basis for the Avantime.