The heady response to the Duster (bookings are already inching towards the 10,000-mark) signals the beginning of an important phase for Renault in India.

“The Duster signals a start to Renault’s real work on an affordable car/platform for India and other emerging markets,” Mr Marc Nassif, Managing Director of Renault India, told Business Line .

This is a programme being spearheaded by Mr Gerard Detourbet, the “father of the Duster”, who will be leading all engineering development on this project.

Interestingly, the Duster was decided for India around the time Renault was on the verge of calling it quits with Mahindra & Mahindra, its partner for the Logan project. “We had started work on the Duster quite some time back in 2010. It is not as if it was decided overnight to bring in the volumes,” Mr Nassif says.

At that point, Renault was going through its biggest challenge in India. The tepid market response to the Logan was a reminder that any product strategy had to keep in tune with the requirements of the local market. In addition, changes would have to be carried out quickly, which meant that local skills were imperative.

As Mr Nassif puts it, the Duster is a tribute to Renault for its ability to engineer a global platform suitable for many markets. “It reflects the competence of the Chennai engineering centre and suppliers involved with the Duster to deliver the local blend. Our market intelligence also helped us understand customer needs,” he says.

From the company’s point of view, the other products from its stable — the Fluence, the Koleos and the Pulse — are as important as the Duster and part of the renewed brand-building strategy for India. “This top-down approach combined with quality and customer centricity has helped move the brand up the ladder,” Mr Nassif says.

Clearly, Renault has come a long way since the Logan which promised much but lost its way eventually. As the India chief quips, “We just jumped into the pool and began learning to swim.” Today, the road ahead is better defined where the company has identified India as its key growth drivers along with Brazil and Russia.

The Logan days also saw the term ‘frugal engineering’ becoming the industry buzzword thanks to Renault’s CEO, Mr Carlos Ghosn. Clearly impressed by the Tata Nano, he reiterated that this was a business model worth emulating. The goalpost has since shifted to Mr Detourbet’s project, which is in the more realistic sub-Rs 3 lakh range.

“Renault’s focus is always on delivering value and not ‘cheap’ products. We will never shift from that objective,” Mr Nassif says. It is a view echoed by Mr Carlos Tavares, Renault’s Chief Operating Officer, who said on a recent India visit that vehicles like the Logan and Duster were well designed with no “useless content”. This is why, he added, the right way forward was to combine the frugality of Indian engineers with the Renault programme management.