UPDATE: According to The Malaysian Insider, Tony Fernandes says the JV will eventually produce city cars and a crossover SUV. The first product, codenamed CT02, is expected to roll out in 2015 and for Malaysia, there will be a CKD version.

Here’s an unexpected piece of news. Renault and Caterham Group today announced their decision to join forces to design, develop and build future sports vehicles. The fruits of the marriage will be “distinctive, differentiated, and carry the respective DNA of Alpine and Caterham Cars”, which means that the legendary Alpine brand, bought in 1973 by Renault, will be revived!

Jean Rédélé, pilot, businessman and automotive pioneer, founded Alpine in 1955. The sleek 50-year old A110 in the pic above is probably the most recognisable Alpine sports car. The younger ones who are old enough to know what “Top Trumps” is would probably remember the sharp lines of the Alpine A310 and A610. During its existence, Alpine sold 30,000 sports cars and was world rally champion in 1973, among other racing achievements.

This partnership will see Caterham Group, headed by Malaysian Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, own a 50% stake in the Automobiles Alpine Renault, currently 100% owned by Renault. A JV company, The Société des Automobiles Alpine Caterham, will be created in January 2013 and managed by CEO Bernard Ollivier.

The Dieppe plant in France, the historical home of the Alpine that most recently churned out Renault Sport hot hatches like the Megane R26 and Clio RS, plays a main role in the partnership as it’s where the future sports cars will be built. The plant has produced more than 400,000 vehicles since 1969.

As for the cars, Renault and Caterham will combine their skills to build models in large and small series, in order to widen their positioning in the sports car market. The objective for each company is to launch its own vehicle within the next three to four years. There will be a newly-created joint Engineering Department that will split the required engineering and industrial investments on a 50-50 basis.

Caterham is of course most famous for the lightweight, bare-bones Seven, although it makes more modern machines like the SP/300.R as well.

“This innovative partnership with Caterham embodies a longstanding ambition: the creation of a sports car with the Alpine DNA. It carries both opportunities for the Dieppe plant and the development of its historic know-how,” said Carlos Ghosn, chairman and CEO of Renault.

Fernandes, the other expert dealmaker, said: “I have not felt as excited about a new venture since I launched AirAsia in 2001 and I want to thank Carlos Ghosn and Carlos Tavares (Renault COO) and everyone in our new Renault family for having the belief in Caterham Group to create this partnership. Many people doubted us 11 years ago when we launched our airline and I am sure that there will be doubters again this time, but we will not fail your trust.”

“Formula 1 was always our entry point into the car business. Our original plans to develop a partnership with Lotus were put aside in spectacular and well documented style, but now we have a far better chance to develop Caterham Cars in partnership with Renault,” added Datuk Kamarudin Meranun, Caterham Group deputy chairman and long time business partner of Fernandes.

It’s quite a promising partnership from a car enthusiast point of view, and we eagerly wait for the results, which should be interesting!