Australia has a small yet very competitive car market that’s seen many successful international brands enter and quickly exit after lacklustre sales in recent years: think Dodge, Infiniti or Opel. But none of those brands boasts their own Formula 1 team… Which makes Alpine rather special.
Not to be confused with Alpina (a BMW tuning house that’s sold through BMW dealerships in Australia that’s also not long for this world), Alpine is a French sports car brand that, in its modern form, is the performance division of automotive giant Renault.
The Alpine brand has a long and somewhat complicated history – first as a tuner, then a manufacturer in its own right – and was a slightly obscure note in mainstream automotive history until Renault decided to revive the brand back in 2017 with the Alpine A110, a lightweight 2-door coupé named and styled after the iconic A110 berlinetta of the 60s and 70s.
On top of that, Renault rebranded their famous F1 team as Alpine last year – demonstrating how Alpine has morphed into Renault’s sole performance division, just as Mercedes-AMG has become for Mercedes-Benz, for example. With us so far?
The ‘new’ Alpine A110 (if you can call a car that’s been in production for half a decade already ‘new’) is currently the only car that Alpine makes, and it’s actually a superb car. Former Top Gear host James May has called it “the greatest thing to come out of France since the Mouli cheese grater.”
Yet after only 4 years on the market in Australia, Alpine and the A110 are disappearing. And it’s no mystery why: the Alpine A110 is the worst-selling vehicle the country has seen for a very long time.
How bad has the Alpine A110’s sales been? According to VFACTS, only 85 units have sold in Australia since its introduction. Ouch. That’s almost as bad as the sales of the Renault Zoe, which was sold here from 2017 to 2020 and pulled from the market after only 63 examples were sold during those 3 years.
2022 has been especially grim for Alpine, with the brand literally only selling 1 car per month in January, February and March.
In comparison, Lotus – whose lightweight cars are very similar to the Alpine A110 – sold 18 cars in March. Hardly enough to set the world on fire but still. Porsche, whose Cayman is another natural rival for the A110, sold 275 cars. For comparison, the best-selling brand, Toyota, sold 21,828 cars.
To be fair, Alpine’s grim 2022 sales figures are largely due to the fact that the A110 has been discontinued in Australia, with no new supply forthcoming – dealers are just selling what they’ve got left on lots. Once they’re all sold, Alpine will no longer exist in Australia… At least in the short term.
The A110 is being discontinued thanks to the introduction of Australian Design Rule 85/00, which requires new cars sold here to have side impact airbags – something the A110 doesn’t have in order to keep the car light.
“Given only  units have sold in Australia since its introduction… it’s not hard to see that there’s no scope for return on the cost of redesigning even part of the A110 purely for the Australian market, especially when most prospective customers likely already have one,” WhichCar explains, adding that Australia makes up less than 1% of Alpine’s global sales.
This doesn’t mean the Alpine brand will completely disappear from Australia shores once the A110 is discontinued. Of course, the Alpine F1 Team will keep coming Down Under for the Australian Grand Prix, and there’s a very good chance we’ll see an Australian driving for the team in the not-too-distant future: Oscar Piastri, the 2021 Formula 2 World Champion, who’s part of Renault’s driver academy.
There’s also a next-generation A110 in the works, which will be produced in collaboration with Lotus, feature an all-electric drivetrain and will enter production in 2025. The new Renault 5 EV is also set to have a performance-oriented Alpine variant.
Still, it’s bizarre that a brand that has an F1 team would end up being Australia’s worst-selling car maker in recent memory.