Dacia cars: what is the secret of their success?

1 Jul, 2014 9:00am Chris Ebbs

Cut-price car brand Dacia was a sales sensation in the UK last year. We headed to Romania to find out the secrets behind its success

In 2013, its first year of full sales back in the UK, Dacia registered a total of 17,146 cars. That figure eclipsed more mainstream rivals like Jaguar and Alfa Romeo. But how did a relatively unknown manufacturer from the one of the strictest former Eastern Bloc countries – Romania – pull off such a successful assault on the UK car market?

To get a proper understanding of the progression of Dacia, we headed to Bucharest – Romania’s capital city – to see how far things have come for the brand, from the design of its cars right through to their manufacturing and testing. 

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Dacia: a brief history

Dacia started life in 1966 under the moniker of Uzina de Autoturisme Pitesti (UAP). And its first car wasn’t an in-house new model, but a Renault 8 produced under licence called the Dacia 1100. From 1968 to 1972, just 44,000 were made. By 1969, this was joined by the Dacia 1300. 

Again, it was a copy of another Renault – this time the Renault 12. It had a lengthy lifespan, being built right up to 2004, with some design tweaks and modernisation along the way, of course. But while production was steady and numbers were good, under Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania was one of the most Stalinist police states in the Eastern Bloc. 

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The legacy of this era lives on, with huge, opulent buildings now sitting largely empty in the centre of Bucharest. Under such a strict regime, the Dacia brand was suffocated somewhat, as the communist regime discouraged innovation. This meant cars were rarely updated. And this had an effect on the relationship with Renault, which cut any ties to the company, with poor safety standards in Dacias also a worry for the French firm. 


Despite the tight state controls, Dacias were being exported to countries including the UK during this time. But as the cars slipped behind the standards of other brands, they were largely forgotten about and sales plummeted. 

Things started to change when Renault bought a controlling stake in 1999 and set about transforming the brand into what it is today. And our journey begins at Dacia’s relatively new design studios – perhaps one of the best examples of just how more modern and European-thinking the brand has become. 

Dacia: designed and built in Romania

Opened in 2007, in the heart of Bucharest, the design studio is part of a network of design centres within the Renault Group, and is a thoroughly international affair. Heading the centre up is British designer Geoff Gardiner. “There are a total of 24 people working at the centre from all over the world,” Gardiner explains. “We have designers from Bulgaria and India, but also from Romania.” 

Dacia design

The development of homegrown talent is still key to the Dacia brand, with the company establishing relationships with nearby design schools. And despite the clear forward step in bringing Bucharest into line with Renault’s global vision, Gardiner is under no illusions about what Dacia still stands for. “You get a lot from your money from Dacias,” he says. “They are robust, with a Germanic feel.”

Also working at the centre is Xavier Francois Lescourret, whose department is in charge of the perceived quality of the cars. “We are pleased with the new models,” he tells us. “They now have the perceived quality of some Skodas or lower VWs.”

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But there is still some satisfaction in the earlier Dacia models, too. Lescourret continues: “They were right for the markets and we then made modifications in order for the newer cars to fit in other markets.”

Dacia production line

This combination of value for money, but adapting cars to suit individual markets, has seen sales grow from 23,000 back in 2004 to an impressive 430,000 in 2013. The manufacturing numbers are even more impressive. The factory in Mioveni produced 342,620 vehicles in 2013, and it has the capacity to build 1,390 a day – that’s a car every 55 seconds.

Continue to page 2 and find out more about Dacia's success story...


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You can get a poverty spec Fiesta 3 door with the 1.25 60bhp petrol (yes, it's actually detuned!) for £9695 or a base model Dacia Duster 1.6 103 bhp petrol 5 door for £9.5k.

OK, you'd need to spend another £50 to get a stereo for the Dacia, but it does seem a whole lot more car for the same money. Not hard to see why they're so popular.

Trouble is you pay for lower quality - as a result safety is highly compromised which I think is unacceptable in 2014. Especially for a small family car. I'd stick to the 5 star 2 year old fiesta any day!

Renault got the timing exactly right. They launched Dacia cars at a time when the world began sliding into recession.

I'm not in the UK (from Gibraltar) so I'm taking AutoExpress' word on Dacia's "runaway success" in the UK. However, the local Renault dealer doesn't stock up on many Dacia vehicles but when they do, they sell very fast indeed. Dacia may find itself competing against SsangYong soon, though (at least locally).

My first car was a used 2002 VW Polo with a 1.2L 3 cyl engine. It had windy-down windows, a crummy stereo and almost everything stopped working (including the air con! In the Mediterranean summer climate!) - so much for "German quality".

The repair and service bills were astronomical, so I sold the damn thing and set my sights on a Ford Fiesta, which was going to cost me about £12,000. However, a friend pointed out that the local Renault dealer had an SUV called the Dacia Duster on sale for £13,500.

I visit Morocco regularly and it's impossible not to notice the literally thousands of Dacia cars on the road. Even the national taxi service, which were all depending on ageing Mercedes-Benz 240Ds, were replacing them with Dacias. I stepped into a taxi (a Dacia Logan) and was impressed by the quality and robust feeling of the car (not much different from my old VW Polo if I'm honest) - so when I came back home I went down to the bank, took out a loan and bought the Duster.

18 months later, I still have the Duster and I'm very happy with it. I have a few gripes with it but they are minor. However, I would recommend avoiding the 1.6L petrol engine. It is very smooth, punchy and rev-happy and would make for an excellent city car, but you need to rev it hard to get it up to speed. Getting to 100km/h is relatively trouble-free, getting it to 120km/h and keeping it there isn't. There's a fair amount of wind and engine noise, which makes me wish for a sixth gear. It isn't very economical either, returning about 35MPG (mainly city driving) - not that it was plain sailing with the Polo!

I haven't driven the turbodiesel, but I'm sure it has enough power to keep it moving. If you're elsewhere in Europe, the new 1.2 turbopetrol sounds like the perfect sweet spot.

All in all, if you're looking for cheap, reliable wheels, Dacia do a bloody good job - and that is the reason for their success.

Some of us are willing to take the risk and want as much bang for our buck. Dacia's innovation and their success is the free market at work.

One year on sale in the UK and Dacia's presence is already visible on our roads. Yesterday I saw a Dacia Logan MCV and wondered what could be the secret of their success?
Fact is Dacia offers great value for money. Fact is Dacia picks up from where Skoda left the market in their self-styled move upmarket backed up by Volkswagen hardware.

Imagine a frontal collision between a Fiesta and a Duster. Unfortunately the laws of physics don't care about the number of stars.

I like the "self-styled" comment!

Who are Dacia kidding - 'they now have the perceived quality of some Skodas now'. Yes, maybe the Felicia that went out of production in 1999! Certainly getting out of a 5 year old Fabia and into a new Sandero definitely feels like 3 steps down in the quality stakes! Keep dreaming Dacia!

Size will triumph over statistics any day!!!

You do realise Dacia are still built to the strict safety standards of Renault, making them one of the safest brands. It's only because ESP isn't standard (amongst others) that results in the low star rating. Structurally, however, it's one of the best.

Dacia's success is not just one thing

1) Price, they priced the cars to sell, and no haggle, so that they can get teh price down and still make a nice little profit on each unit sold, by undercutting rivals, they have instantaneously given themselves a gerat start

2) Engines, yes they are all Renault engines from previous versions of the Clio etc, and they are tried and tested, so are reliable, same with switchgear and gearboxes, because they are older designs, they dont really owe Renault any money, so can be used at a lower price point.

3) Location, this i feel is the main point, unlike most other brand new brands, they already had a major retail network, with the majority of Renault dealers making room for Dacia in their showrooms, it was easy money for them, and again, no cost to Renault, apart from a few signage bits and pieces.

4) Advertising, the played a blinder with this one, there was no frivolity, as the ads stated, it was like the other advert, it does what it says on the tin, you got what you saw, no fancy rubbish, and because of that, it communicated to the buyer that the car was uncompicated, unfussy, ideal, and easy to own.

Renault pitched at the right people too, those of lower incomes and older people who like to have new, both of which either dont have much or dont like spending it, all the cars in the UK range are ideal for what they are aimed at, and thats why they are so successful, just a shame that MG has not done the same thing.

Not necessarily. A smaller, tougher car with modern safety kit can be safer than a larger one with less structural integrity and more dated technology. Remember the 5th Gear Renault Modus v. Volvo 900 crash test? If the Duster only obtained 3 stars in Euro NCAP then that indicates there could be problems, even in a collision with a smaller car. The whole point of modern safety engineering is that it mitigates against the laws of physics.

The figures for occupant protection are not great, e.g. for adult protection 74% (3 stars) for the Duster and 80% (4 stars) in the case of the Sandero. 90%+ and 5 stars are the norm. I understand why they are popular though.

But would anyone actually pay £9695 for the Fiesta? Most dealers are advertising them at £8995 so you should be able to get one for under £8500 for a cash sale.

Daewoo did pretty well when they turned up in 1995 too. The problem with Dacia is whether they are cannibalising sales from Renault, who are struggling.

Yes, and look what happened to Daewoo, and Proton. Both started strongly, now they are Daewho? and Protgone....


Daewoo were taken over by Chevrolet..

I am sorry to say this but you clearly have very little understanding of collision physics.

Even though the structure of the car is so good that it will keep your body unharmed, your internal organs will be crushed because they will continue their motion inside your body, while your torso will rapidly decelerate (assuming you are wearing the seat belt). Now, as you might have studied in school, when 2 objects collide, all that matters is speed and mass. As it turns out, considering the speed of the 2 object is the same, the heavier object experiences less deceleration. For example, if a Fiesta collides with a tank, the tank will simply continue its forward motion at a slightly smaller speed while the Fiesta will simply start travelling in the opposite direction with some of the tank speed transferred to it, thus suffering from a massive deceleration. Sure, the Duster is not as heavy as a tank, but when it collides with a Fiesta, it will experience a much lighter deceleration and therefore you are more likely to survive in it.

Because of that internal organs movement, you do not want to be in a car that has a very rigid body, because that body does not absorb enough energy in a collision (elastic vs inelastic collision). You actually want the front of the car to be completely smashed while the cabin remains intact. So in that video, should the Volvo had a good cabin the passengers would have had better survival chances than the ones in the Renault because less energy would have been transferred to their bodies, therefore they would have experienced less deceleration. If you look at the NCAP pictures and videos, the Duster keeps its cabin intact at the frontal collision.

Of course, if a frontal collision happens at 80mph like in that video, the survival chances are simply down to luck regardless of how many NCAP stars you have. And your chances are slim at best.

Unfortunately, a gross oversimplification that completely ignores the difference in quality between the two vehicles. You do not need a PhD in Physics to realise that large, heavy objects will have harmful effects when they collide at high speed with smaller, lighter ones.

However, modern small cars like the Fiesta are extremely effective in absorbing the impact that would be used to injure/kill the occupants, and this is reflected in the impressive NCAP score of the Fiesta. The poor performance of the Duster (and 74% is poor for adult protection) indicates that, despite being a larger, heavier car, its structure is not particularly effective in absorbing collision forces and providing a good level of protection for occupants.

This is exactly what happened in the case of Renault Modus v. Volvo 900. The dated structural design of the 900 was far less effective in absorbing impact than the smaller, lighter but more modern Modus. In a collision between a Duster and a Fiesta you cannot simply assume that the Duster will be safer because it is the larger car. The data indicates that the Duster provides a questionable level of occupant protection, and the Fiesta (as with the Modus) will compensate for the difference in size through more effective safety engineering.

Recent research in the US shows that vehicle quality is as important as size and weight in collisions. Yes, it is probably safe to say that an Audi A4 is safer than an Audi A1, but the Duster and Fiesta are completely different animals. Also, have you checked out the GVWs of the two cars? The Duster is only ~200 kg or 13% heavier than the Fiesta and lighter than the Focus, so actually not much of a heavyweight at all.

No two collisions are the same - it depends upon the inherent characteristics of the vehicles involved and how they interact. A collision between a Duster and a Fiesta is not the same as a Duster and a Polo. The only way to tell for sure would be to crash test the cars, but you certainly cannot predict the outcome based on Year 9 physics.

You also realise that the german manufacturers such audi & MB don't actually run their cars through the Euro NCAP Safety test?

Plus they are better than crappy Fords anyday. AND NO NEED TO SHOUT, JUST COS YOU'RE IN PORTUGAL DOESN'T MEAN WE CAN'T HEAR YOU!

Who struggled and struggled and are now........going going almost gone!


You do know the new Migraine only got 3 Stars recently........not exactly strict!

Will you shout at them too? Or has your caps lock key stuck?

PERHAPS WE WILL ASK THEM TO BAN YOU TOO FOR SHOUTING... oo, bugger, i was shouting too, your reply was the aggresive and rude one, all he did was say you dont need to shout, in a humours way.

We are sorry that you dont get humour, but the UK is well know for humour and sarcasm.... IS THAT OK... ooops did it again...

Renault are definately not struggling, sales are way up this year, and anyway, it is a win win for them, between them they are selling more than Renault did at the peak of their sales.

Maybe but they are still be biggest brand in the world.... so a few hundred lost sales here or there mean begger all really... they will make them up else where, as they have already shown.

The problem with this argument is that it only really applies to head on impacts. There are many other types of accident.

Chevrolet Korea is not Chevrolet USA.

Renault have survived because the French government have worked around EU law to shore them up and Chinese corporation Dongfeng have bought into them.

Dacia might be a successful brand but I'm still waiting for something exciting like a hot hatch version of the Sandero or the Logan in the UK

I think all the main models are there, and in any case there should be plenty of crash data on these cars available from overseas organisations such as IIHS in the US.

There is no reason why it should not apply more widely than that. Andrew is basically trying to argue that there are only two factors in a collision: speed and mass. In fact there is a third - the characteristics of the vehicles involved. If this were not the case, all vehicles of similar size and weight would perform in exactly the same way in the same test, which they clearly do not.

The other mistake is to overestimate the size/weight advantage of the Duster. It is actually quite a lightweight, so Fiesta v. Duster is roughly equivalent to Fiesta v. Focus, although the Focus is actually a bit heavier than the Duster and its safety engineering is obviously far better. A BMW X3 or Volvo XC60 the Duster certainly ain't.