PARIS -- Renault plans to buck an industry trend toward flexible manufacturing as part of its strategy to double the number of small cars it offers globally.
Automakers such as Ford, Opel and PSA/Peugeot-Citroen have shifted toward flexible plants that can produce multiple products to match changes in demand. But Renault is reorganizing its small-car production on the principle of "one plant for one vehicle," said a top Renault official.
Renault's Twingo and Clio will be joined by a compact minivan code-named J-77 and the X-90, the so-called E5,000 car for developing countries.
Although described as a medium-size family car, the X90 is being built on the small-car platform Renault shares with the Nissan Micra.
"The doubling in the number of small-car models highlights how that segment is vital to us," said Pierre-Alain de Smedt, Renault's engineering and manufacturing chief. "We know that these kinds of products represent enough volume to fully utilize a plant."
Nigel Griffiths, a director at London-based consultancy Global Insight, questions the maneuver.
"On the face of it, it's quite a risky strategy," Griffiths said. "What will happen when the model is aging and the level of production ebbs away with demand?"
Renault will not change its large-car production strategy. The company will continue to produce multiple models at its Sandouville, France, plant, where it builds the Vel Satis, Espace IV and Laguna II.
De Smedt said large-car volumes are not high enough to merit dedicating a plant's entire capacity to one model.
The Clio and Twingo, which are both due for an upgrade in the next two years, accounted for more than one-third of Renault's 1.5 million unit sales in western Europe last year.
Production of the next Twingo will move from Flins, France, to Renault's Slovenian plant in Novo Mesto.
De Smedt said the car will be launched "around 2006" but declined to say more. Renault will spend E100 million to upgrade the plant to improve its capacity to 200,000 cars a year. At near full capacity, Novo Mesto built 118,000 Clios last year.
Production of the new Clio, which is expected next year, will be the exception to Renault's "one-vehicle-one-plant" rule. It will take over the Twingo's capacity at the Flins plant and will be produced in Bursa, Turkey.
This suggests that Renault expects the Clio to remain a top seller. It was western Europe's No. 3 selling car last year with sales of 461,369 units, a drop from 501,908 units in 2002.
The J77 will be produced in Valladolid, Spain. The compact minivan and the X-90 are expected to be launched during the second half of this year.
Renault builds the X-90 at its plant in Pitesti, Romania. The car will be built in Moscow, Russia, next year. Renault also plans to build the car in Iran, Morocco, Columbia and probably China.
Renault's plant allocation policy for small cars is in contrast with PSA practices. It produces several small cars in the same plant. For example, PSA builds the Citroen C2 and C3 at its Aulnay plant near Paris, which has a capacity of nearly 400,000 cars a year.