Dacia Launching In The UK

It's not quite an A-Z, but from Alfa Romeo to Volvo the UK has roughly 30 mainstream car brands covering every sector of the market. The question is this - do we need another?

Dacia was a little-loved Romanian brand knocking out very basic models for Eastern Europe. That was until 1999 when it was bought by Renault. Think Skoda before Volkswagen came along. But like the Czech firm, Dacia has been transformed. First came a genuinely stunning sales success in Western Europe - it has gone from under 5,000 units to 350,000 a year since 2004. This unexpected success led to a delay in production of right-hand-drive cars for the UK. So Dacia is finally arriving in Britain from 1 January 2013. Every Renault dealer in the country now has a small corner devoted to Dacia. And it's pronounced 'Datchia', not Dassia or Dayseer.

So, what's it offering that 30 rivals have missed? If you were being cruel you could say it's Daewoo-style 'no-haggle' transparent pricing on a car that looks like the old Rover Streetwise.

Surely in an over-supplied market we should be getting rid of companies, such as the two mentioned? And yet the arrival of Dacia has sparked proper excitement in the industry. There's a three-car range: the Sandero supermini, the Sandero Stepway crossover (if you remember the Rover Streetwise, compare the two and tell me I'm wrong) and the Duster SUV. Yes, that's right. It's called the Duster. You can laugh but the motoring media love it, recently voting it Scottish Car of the Year.

Dacia's pitch is simple - you buy a new car but you pay the price of one from the sector below. And in these financially tough times, what's not to like about the promise of a trio of new cars, all of which are the cheapest in their class? You can get a Sandero for 5,995 GBP. That's the price of a Ford Fiesta in 1989.

'Cheap' is an interesting word because its meaning isn't limited to cost. But if you think you're getting Soviet-era smoke-belching death-traps, think again. This is top-of-the-line Renault stuff. The Stepway diesel has official combined cycle fuel economy of 70.6mpg and emissions of 105g/km - as good as anything else on the market.

The cars also drive pretty well. I've tested the Sandero and Stepway, and both offer perfectly acceptable performance. Sure, corners have been cut but there's nothing you're going to wince at enough to make you walk away.

Thierry Sybord, boss of Renault UK, explained: "We come with the spirit of 'break the rules' and none of our rivals do that. We want to reinvent the business with simple products that are easy to drive, and with transparent pricing and service for the customer. More than ever people want to have that."

He might be right and he's got solid evidence to support his claim. Take France. Counting purely retail sales to private customers - so not company cars - Dacia is currently the fifth biggest brand, behind the three domestic ones and Volkswagen.

You're going to hear a lot about Dacia in the coming months, with its 'function over frivolity' and 'shocking affordable' slogans. In the UK the plan is to shift 20,000 units by this time next year, which would put it on a par with Suzuki. I wouldn't bet against it.

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