GENEVA -- Renault might follow Volkswagen's lead and export cars built in low-cost Brazil.
The French carmaker is investigating whether it makes sense to export cars from its plant in Curitiba to other South American countries, Mexico and Europe, said Georges Douin, Renault's head of product, planning and international affairs, during an interview at the Geneva auto show.
The Fox minicar, which is built in Curitiba, will be launched in Europe in May as a replacement for the Lupo.
Renault's Curitiba plant, which is about 800km south of Rio de Janeiro, has had spare capacity since the start of the decade. That's when new-car sales collapsed in Brazil and Argentina.
Built in 1998, the plant's annual capacity is 200,000 passenger cars and 50,000 light commercial vehicles and pickups. But last year the plant made just 66,507 passenger cars -- a mix of Clios and first-generation Scenics -- and 15,224 light commercial vehicles and pickups, including the Renault Master, Nissan X-Terra and Nissan Frontier.
Exporting cars from South America makes sense only if Renault can minimize its exposure to currency fluctuations. This requires offsetting the export of cars with the import of parts, creating a natural hedge.
"That's what we have been doing in Turkey for years," he said. "We send parts to Turkey, and we export cars to Europe."
Europe got 130,903 of the 197,353 cars Renault built in Turkey last year. The majority of the Turkey-built models were shipped to Spain.
Douin did not specify which models the Curitiba plant could build for export. But last month Renault CEO Louis Schweitzer said sedan and hatchback versions of the Logan, Renault's low-cost family car for developing countries, would be built in Curitiba for export to countries such as Argentina and Mexico.
Schweitzer did not rule out the sale of the Logan hatchback in Europe, although he said there was a risk it would steal sales from similar-sized Renault models.
European manufacturers have been seeking ways to utilize idle capacity in South America for years. VW group's capacity at three plants in Brazil exceeded 700,000 vehicles a year at the end of the 1990s. Last year VW built 132,000 cars there.
Asked whether PSA/Peugeot-Citroen could use its South American plants to build cars for Europe, CEO Jean-Martin Folz said "there is no business case for doing that on a systematic basis."
PSA has plants in Brazil, Argentina and Chile.