Dacia’s high profile launch into the UK market with a low price and no discount policy is set to shake up the industry. Simon Heptinstall investigates whether important corners have been cut to keep prices so low.
The man from Dacia simply shrugged. We were holding a cable that had come off in our hand while we were looking under the bonnet of a brand new Sandero. He slotted it back into its plastic housing quickly. “It switches the headlamp from low to high beam,” he told us. The fact that it had fallen off so easily on a brand new car didn’t seem to concern him.
Perhaps the Dacia staff were getting tired of nosey journalists from Diesel Car prodding their way round their new vehicles. Most journalists have admired the gleaming new Duster SUV and Sandero hatchback on the basis of how marvellously cheap these Romanian vehicles are. What hasn’t been written is why they are so cheap. What corners have been cut by Dacia’s new bosses at Renault to create the continent’s fastest growing new brand? We have already seen that they are spacious and drive pretty well. So our mission here wasn’t to road test them. Instead, while the assembled journalists were enjoying a special promotional talk and lunch, we took the opportunity to investigate the Dacia’s build quality in more detail. How cheaply finished are they? How long will they last? We prodded every component, surface and material inside, outside and underneath the cars. Here are some examples of what we found:
Both models had examples of lightweight soundproofing panels, badly fitting boot linings, slender door stays and wobbly door locks. In contrast, beneath the trim and underneath the cars, the structure is neatly welded, parts sensibly fixed and we found nothing flimsy at all.
In summary, the Dacia trim seems cheaply made and fixed in place. There are weak spots that are likely to break over time. Easily damaged cables suggest minor electrical problems may occur. The underlying structure of the cars however seem very sound indeed. At these low price levels, the build deficiencies are acceptable and are by no means unique to Dacia. Other budget brands economise on materials and build, yet cost several thousand pounds more.
- Built in India
- Flimsy trim in front of passengers could be wobbled to and fro several inches.
- Panel at the side of the console popped out of its mounting and fell off.
- A blanking plate on the passenger door trim was missing.
- Cables and a junction box dangled beneath the dashboard.
Dacia Sandero dCi 90
- Built in Romania
- Under-bonnet light cable popped out of its holder.
- Worryingly flimsy bonnet release cable.
- Wobbly cigarette lighter socket strangely placed close to the gearstick and with cover held by just a fragile rubber strip.
- Loose and wobbly diesel filler door.
THE PRICE IS RIGHT
How has Dacia managed to price their new cars so low? The new Sandero dCi 90 is Britain’s cheapest diesel at £8,395 and the Duster dCi 100 the cheapest diesel SUV at £11,495.
We exclusively quizzed Adam Wood, Dacia UK Product Manager, explaining some of the major cost-cutting strategies behind the brand.
All Dacias, including the forthcoming Logan MCV estate revealed at Geneva, share a platform. They also take great advantage of Renault Group’s research and development capabilities and parts bin. For example, the Duster uses an old Nissan 4×4 system and all Dacia engines are existing Renault powerplants.
Dacia has stuck to a ‘low diversity’ strategy. They offer very few versions or options. The cheapest Sandero, petrol only, for example, just comes in the colour white. And even standard equipment levels are sparce.
Minimal dealer investment means less cost at the point of sale. Dacias are sold via the existing Renault network with no special fleet support whatsoever. Allied with this, Dacia has shared Renault’s UK import facilities at Teesport.
THE DACIA STORY
The Romanian company began making cars in 1968 using old Renault designs. Dacia (currently pronounced by company staff as ‘Dacha’) is named after a region of Romania. By the eighties they were imported to the UK, but were judged to be at least as bad as other Eastern Bloc vehicles like FSOs, Ladas and Skodas.
In 1999, Renault bought the company and spent five years modernising its facilities. The first generation Logan saloon appeared in Europe in 2004 and a diesel version the following year. Dacias have since been acclaimed for low prices and simple unpretentious design. The company is now Romania’s largest exporter.
The Dacia Duster SUV arrived in the UK at the beginning of this year, alongside the Sandero hatchback. This is a Fiesta-sized hatchback whose base petrol model is now the UK’s cheapest car at £5,995. At this level there’s not even a radio and the only available colour is white. The Sandero 1.5 dCi 90 diesel starts at £8,395 with more extensive kit: electric front windows, remote control central locking and a 60/40 split/fold rear seat. It is the cheapest diesel powered car in the UK. Later this year, a crossover style Sandero Stepway will arrive, as well as the Logan MCV estate that will be the UK’s cheapest diesel estate car, with a price tag of less than £10,000 in diesel form, and under £7k in its most basic, petrol guise.