Renault Alliance

The Renault Alliance is a subcompact automobile that was built and marketed in North America by the American Motors Corporation (AMC) through its partnership with its majority owner Renault between 1982 and 1987, when the Chrysler Corporation acquired AMC. The Alliance was based upon the Renault 9 & 11, but received its interior styling courtesy of AMC's Richard Teague. The Alliance was joined in the 1984 model year by the Renault Encore hatchback, which shared many of its components with the Alliance.


The relentless competition from the "Big Three" left American Motors in a weak position in the U.S. marketplace. It had three product lines: a generally profitable line of government vehicles; Jeeps, which sold well and at high margins when consumers weren't overly concerned about fuel efficiency; and passenger cars, which appealed mostly to price-sensitive buyers. In 1979 AMC became the object of a takeover by Renault of France that acquired a controlling interest by 1982, and thus was born what some were quick to call "Franco-American Motors." With the United States dollar then relatively weak against the French franc, manufacturing in the U.S. seemed the best way to grow especially since fuel prices were rising and the major U.S. carmakers had yet to bring out large numbers of small, fuel-efficient cars. Renault's thrifty, front-wheel-drive models looked like sure winners in the U.S. market and the partnership with AMC gave Renault a ready-made manufacturing base and dealer network.

Renault executives came in to run things alongside AMC officials, and the old Nash factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin was retooled to produce an Americanized version of the European Renault 9 subcompact, which was aptly renamed Alliance. The Renault 9 was voted the 1982 European Car of the Year and it quickly became France's most popular car and Renault's best selling model ever, so the car already had a well established track record. The cars were aimed at the lowest price range in the U.S. market, the Alliance had a sticker price starting at US$5,995.


The Alliance was a 2- or 4-door sedan, launched in June 1982 as a 1983 model. Although it was branded as a Renault, the car bore AMC's logo on rear window decals. The Alliance appeared on Car and Driver's Ten Best list for 1983 and was the 1983 Motor Trend Car of the Year. The Alliance seemed just what the doctor ordered for AMC: modern front-drive sedans with a overall length on a wheelbase and a thrifty, transverse four-cylinder engine. The Alliance had a long list of standard equipment and got in city driving. Fuel economy on the highway with the 5-speed manual transmission approached . It was a sensible car for a post-oil crisis period in which good fuel economy was highly prized.

The Alliance was slightly smaller on the outside than the competing first generation Ford Escort (North America), but a somewhat bigger on the inside where it looked larger and more inviting. Interior space was good for four or occasionally five people, in part due to a cleverly engineered front seat that was mounted pedestal fashion on a wide central frame that allowed rear passengers to slide their feet under the front seat, and in addition to the usual recline and fore-and-aft movements, the upscale DL models got a curved track that allowed the seat to be adjusted in a "rocking" motion to find the most comfortable position for driver and passenger.

The Alliance sold well with over 142,000 of the debut 1983 models. Bolstered by two- and four-door hatchback derivatives called Encore, sales zoomed to over 208,000 the following year. However, the cars came out just in time to encounter a sag in the small-car market because as fuel prices fell, consumers began to drift away to larger automobiles, leaving the Renault-based models to scramble against low-priced Chevrolet Chevettes, Ford Escorts, and the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon twins, as well as a slew of Japanese imports. This meant that total sales fell to 150,000 for 1985, then to 65,000 in 1986, and finally to only some 35,000 in 1987.

In addition to the sedan, the Alliance was offered as a convertible (Kenosha's first droptops since the 1968 Rebels) between 1985 and 1987. In the 1987 model year, the Encore, the shortened Alliance-based hatchback, was renamed the Alliance hatchback.

For the final 1987 model year, a limited production, high performance version of the Alliance was marketed as the Renault GTA. It came in 2-door sedan or convertible form and had a 2.0 L engine. The GTA was an entry in the expanding "souped-up" or "hot-car" market segment as the price of gasoline decreased, and the two top models served as last-ditch sales boosters for the economical Alliance line.

The Alliance used Renault's C-type OHV engines in 1.4 L or 1.7 L displacements with throttle-body fuel injection from the Renault Le Car. The proven four-cylinder was now dressed in the latest electronics boasting an electronically controlled fuel system, a digital ignition system, and a microprocessor to manage the optional three-speed automatic transmission. California emissions standards required the use of port injection. Power went through either a four-or five-speed manual, or a three-speed automatic transaxle. The base engine produced to get the Alliance from 0 to 60 mph in a leisurely 14.3 seconds, and gave it an top speed. Steering was rack and pinion. Suspension was fully independent via MacPherson struts in front, and a compact and quite ingenious system of transverse torsion bars and trailing arms at the rear. At just under for the base model, the Alliance was the also the lightest car assembled in the U.S. in its time.


Despite the auspicious Car of the Year award, the car would not live up to expectations of owners, who may have assumed that the award also reflected on the reliability of a car. Mechanical problems and indifferent workmanship were as evident on the cars built in Kenosha, as on French-built Renaults. The 1986 Consumer Reports "Annual Auto Issue" surveyed owners after five years of ownership. The 1983 Renault Alliance scored with low ratings in "engine", "clutch", "driveline", "engine cooling", "suspension", "exhaust system", "automatic transmission", and "manual transmission" categories. A Car Talk survey with a total of 55 respondents, indicated low ratings, but many praised the fuel efficiency of their cars.


While initial sales were promising, these concerns hurt sales. AMC's declining profit picture, combined with Renault's concerns with declining sales, hurt the Alliance's chances in the American market.

The Alliance afforded AMC the opportunity to field a new compact car without the expense of its design and tooling, still the alliance with Renault exacted a heavy price on AMC, which was required to shed its profitable AM General line of commercial and military vehicles because of U.S. Government regulations prohibiting foreign companies from owning domestic military suppliers.

Alliance production at the Kenosha plant ended in June 1987, shortly after Chrysler's buyout of AMC was announced. The damaged reputation of the Alliance would also affect attempts to launch other Renault cars, including the brief appearance of the Renault Medallion, and Eagle Premier (the latter which would be the basis for the successful Chrysler LH platform-based automobiles).

The Alliance provided many donor parts (engine and suspension) for the Sports Renault race car, a single make series created by the Sports Car Club of America in 1984. Designed by Roy Lunn, it was a low-cost purpose-built racer. The car was developed and manufactured by Renault/Jeep Sport USA in Livonia, Michigan under direction of Vic Elford, with more than five-hundred were built. Most cars still exist, although the majority have been converted to use a Ford engine (thus now known as Spec Racer Fords), and run in the SCCA club racing program.


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