DETROIT — Renault SA is looking at bringing its uniquely styled Avantime 2-door minivan to the U.S. market as an Infiniti, Chairman Louis Schweitzer confirms.

Schweitzer, attending the auto show here, also says Renault is interested in buying Samsung Motor Corp. assets, but not the Korean company, itself. And he says the automaker is close to being able to deliver cars to European customers within 14 days of order.

Renault will go cautiously where the Avantime is concerned. The new model, based on the Espace minivan, hits the European market shortly, and if given the go-ahead could be on sale in the U.S. by 2001. Renault plans to do a few months of study first. “If positive, we may be able to market it in the U.S. — but only if we can make a profit,” he says.

As for Samsung, Renault is unconcerned about the amount of debt the Korean company has, because the French automaker only wants to buy the car operation's assets — chiefly its assembly plant in Pusan — and the brand name (see story, p.2).

“We can't have a full analysis of a Korean balance sheet, so we would only buy the operating assets,” Schweitzer says. “The plant is quite good, and it was developed with Nissan engineers and built cars based on Nissan products (Maxima). So we have knowledge of the plant and could give it good support.”

If there is to be a deal, it will come in the next three months, Schweitzer says, adding that he thinks Samsung could capture 10% of a 1 million-unit Korean market in the short-term. “Samsung is perceived as a good make (in Korea) and they have a good dealer network,” he says.

Meanwhile, Renault already has begun a program to cut new vehicle delivery times in Europe. Since last year, Renault has been delivering cars to customer order in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Germany, although delivery times are closer to six to eight weeks from order. That program will be launched throughout Europe by mid-2000. Schweitzer says he expects to reach the two-week order-to-delivery target by 2001.