The car of the future from Renault has no future here.
The fourth-generation Espace people-mover, which has been re-imagined as an SUV-style crossover, will not be built in right-hand drive. Sales of right-hook examples dived in Britain during the global financial crisis.
The Espace was unveiled at the Paris motor show with a seven-seater family cabin, in a body that looks more suitable for SUV duty.
It is expected to surge after sales slumped to just 8000 cars a year for the previous model. The new package includes the latest in infotainment, power folding seats in all three rows and petrol and diesel engines.
But, even though Renault Australia can see serious potential to put it up against seven-seater SUVs, the cost of adding right-hand drive will be prohibitive.
"It's a shame. At the time it didn't make business sense," Renault design boss Laurens van den Acker reveals exclusively to CarsGuide.
"Yes, we looked at it. But Britain, which is the biggest market for the Espace in right-hand drive, decided not to take it. Never say never but is very unlikely." Van den Acker says development of the Espace was driven by design, including an 80mm drop in overall height, achieved without affecting headroom. There is also more knee and legroom in all seats.
Renault has trimmed weight by 250kg and the turning circle is as tight as Renault's baby Clio.
Van den Acker says he also needed to make the car look tougher to entice SUV buyers at least to add it to their shopping list.
"Frankly, we had to innovate or it would die. The goal with Espace was to reinvent the big traveller. It's a car you want to pack up and head to the country," he says. "The old car was getting tired, a little bit old. I think what's nice about the new one is that it has a new attitude." He believes the Espace will set a style direction that other brands will follow in the move away from full-scale four-wheel drive packages to front-drive people-movers with SUV bodywork.
"We were inspired by the TGV, the high-speed French train. We worked very hard on it," he says. "Now you can look sexy when you drive a minivan. You don't have to look like you're driving in a giant aquarium." The good news for Australian families is that the next-generation Scenic, the Renault model below the Espace, is heading in a similar design direction.
"In two years there will be a new Scenic, our other seven-seater. We also want to re-invent the Scenic but that's another story. We need to give people a reason to come back to it, too."