Four years on and Dacia show how our attitudes to bargain-basement cars have changed so much
In focus: Dacia
"A motoring price war was sparked here yesterday when a new manufacturer hit the Irish market.
'Romanian marque Dacia, owned by Renault, fired the first shots by announcing prices to undercut one of the most popular cars in Ireland by up to 35pc - or nearly €8,000."
That is how I started a report on the introduction of Dacia to the Irish market in July 2012. Technically they only really began selling cars in January 2013 but July 2012 was used to preview the bargain basement's Duster compact family crossover, at a time when the economy was on its knees.
The strategy was simple: instead of someone buying a secondhand car for around €15,000 they could buy a new Duster for the same money.
There was a three-year manufacturer's warranty and you could extend it to five for a few hundred euro more.
Sure there were few frills and just 3-star NCAP ratings but it relied on tried and trusted, if not exactly up-to-the-minute, Renault/Nissan technology, engines and chassis.
The optimist in me felt it was good news for the consumer - hence the report appearing in the news pages of the Irish Independent. The cynic in me felt it was too good to be true.
If it was the latter, we have yet to find out how because 10,700 people have bought a Dacia since. The Duster accounts for the bulk of purchases but the subsequent Sandero supermini (30pc of sales) has fared well with the Logan estate showing to a lesser extent.
While the 'price-sensitive' brand coincided with the depths of economic crisis I was curious to see how it would fare when things picked up. Surely there would be a tail-off as people could afford cars higher up the food chain?
Several facelifts and spec additions later, that does not seem to be the case. Sizeable year-on-year sales' increases suggest the opposite.
Middle Ireland is still finding it hard to pay for more expensive cars so a new family crossover for €159 a month on PCP resonates.
But there is more to it than that. We have changed as a people too. There is the Aldi and Lidl factor - it's now more than okay to shop at the non-frilly end of the market.
And there is irony in a little bit of on-the-spot research carried out for me. Dusters are commanding really good money on the secondhand market after three years.
Even allowing for a drop in asking prices as deals are done, it suggests there is demand out there for used versions of a motor that started out as a substitute for a secondhand car.
Paddy Magee is the man responsible for Renault and Dacia in Ireland.
There are 26 dealerships (Renault/Dacia) and 45pc of Dacia finance is through Renault Bank.
I had a few questions but first he wanted to make just one point: "It is very rare that you get to launch a new brand on the market in your lifetime." Hadn't thought of that.
Anyway, why such long intervals between new models?
Affordability is key, he says, but there have been some major upgrades - the latest being the Duster Prestige which they describe as a "thank you" car. "If we change the lifecycle we lose the affordability factor."
Who is buying the Duster?
"A huge variety of people: from the used-car buyer to someone who had a company car and is buying their own for the first time."
The Duster, he reminds me, is "seventh" best seller of all SUVs on sale. And Dacia has a 2.85pc of the market - possibly 3.5pc next year.
Have there been issues with reliability? "There haven't been many complaints about things going wrong."
He points to the 1.5dCi diesel that has powered so many Renault/Nissan vehicles.
What else is coming down the line? There's a Sandero-version facelift in January and a new Duster in 2018. They are starting to push the new Duster Commercial (€200 VRT, from €13,500) too.
And there will be a new Logan Stepway crossover type early next year.
Expect a €14,000 price-tag - around €14/€15,000 is still a crucial price point for many.
Affordability rings just as true today as it did four years ago.
Which helps explain how Dacia has survived the recession (4m sales in 44 countries since coming under Renault's wing in 2004) and seems to be thriving in the recovery.