This month contributing editor met up with April Harris, the light commercial vehicle product and pricing manager for Peugeot in the UK.
Helping to create an all-new class of light commercial, the sub-compact Bipper van is about to go on sale in Britain. How many do you expect to sell annually?
We'll be taking 3,000 to 3,500 from the factory this year and we should be able to sell that number. Our sales forecast for 2009, Bipper's first full year, will be for significantly more, but it will all depend on whether we can get the vehicles we want. The diesel model will account for 90 to 95 per cent of sales, with the petrol version making up the balance.
How popular do you expect the 2-Tronic semi-automatic gearbox to be?
It's available solely on the diesel and we'd expect it to account for 15 per cent of total diesel volume. It's worth noting that the 2-Tronic offers slightly lower emissions and even better mpg than the standard 'box.
Who will be the typical Bipper customer?
The classic Bipper buyer will be somebody who works in an urban environment; it's a real city vehicle. A lot of the customers will be small business people, but we've had plenty of interest from some key fleet operators too, especially those who are focusing on the diesel's low CO2 emissions.
Are you concerned that Bipper will steal sales from 207 Van?
We might see a little bit of that, but 207 Van was only launched last September and still has room to grow within its own area of the market. The point really is that with 207 Van, Bipper, Partner Origin and new Partner we have a much broader range within that sector than we used to and can appeal to many more people. This benefit will far outweigh any movement by customers from one model to another.
How many 207 Vans do you expect to sell this year?
Around 1,000 and we're about to introduce a selection of colours other than white!
How well have all the sporty extras you introduced for 207 Van earlier this year been received?
The line-up includes a body kit, 17in alloy wheels and stainless steel sill guards.They've attracted loads of interest. Many customers these days want their vans to stand out. It helps to promote their business if they've got something different.
Partner Origin is the old Partner van with a slightly different name. Who do you think will buy it?
Cash buyers who need a van right now and aren't all that bothered about having a vehicle with all the most modern features. They just want something that will help them do their job. It also fills the little gap between Bipper and new Partner; new Partner is bigger than the old model. Remember that we're a much more picky nation than we used to be. We all want products that precisely fit our needs.
How many Partner Origins do you think you'll sell?
Around 1,500 this year. Add new Partner and you're looking at 4,500 this year across the two ranges.
What will new Partner achieve in 2009?
Obviously we want to move forward in volume terms — don't forget that all the figures quoted above are half-year figures for this year — but we're in the same position as we are with Bipper. We'll be bold in our forecast and we hope we'll be able to get the vehicles we want. We wish we had a never-ending supply.
Unusually for a vehicle of its size, new Partner can be ordered with a three-seater cab. How popular do you think that option will be given that leg room for the middle passenger is so restricted?
The middle seat is an occasional seat for short local trips and it's already been received exceptionally well.
It forms part of a flexible package that allows you to fold the outside passenger seat flat to extend the load length and gain some extra space. The centre seat's back folds down to create a desk. So will new Partner nibble away at the bottom end of the Expert range?
It shouldn't have that much of an impact. Without folding down the passenger seat the biggest Partner offers a 3.7m3 cargo area while the smallest Expert comes with 5.0m3. That means there's a decent gap between the two.
How is Expert doing?
Really well. We're finding buyers for every one we can get and we've been asking the factory for extra supplies. We'll sell 5,000 this year.
Moving up the weight range to Boxer, are you making the 4.0-tonner available in the UK?
We are, but only to our bigger fleet customers; it's not in our main price list. At the moment we're thinking about whether we'll offer it more widely. The Boxer range is immense and our sales mix is somewhat different to that of most rival products from other manufacturers. Around 50 per cent of the 5,000 Boxers that will be sold this year will be sold as motorhomes.
Are you considering introducing ready-bodied, ready-to-go-to-work, dropside, tipper and Luton versions of Boxer?
It's something we need to look at. Our next big project is likely to be some kind of programme along those lines. I can't confirm that it will definitely happen, but I believe it's an area we should be moving into.
If you decide to go ahead with this project how soon before we see the results?
The beginning of next year.
Do you have any plans to standardise on Electronic Stability Programme across the range?
Not at the moment; there's very little call for it from customers. We have it available as an option, but operators don't seem that keen on paying for it despite its safety benefits.
What about ABS?
It's standard on everything aside from Partner Origin.
You've recently launched Professional variants of several of your vans, including Expert and Boxer. What's that all about?
Customers are demanding a higher level of specification so what we're doing is introducing better-equipped versions of the best-sellers in each of our model ranges. A Professional package includes features such as air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity and a bulkhead. The presence of this package — it's available on 207 Van too — enhances the vehicle's second-hand value and that means more attractive contract hire rates. The Boxer Professional has an 8.0m3 cargo area and we're planning to offer a Professional version of one of the larger Boxers as well. We'll have Professional versions of Bipper and New Partner by the end of the year.
What's the situation with alternative fuels?
All of our HDi engines made after 1998 will run on a 30 per cent biodiesel mix known as B30 and PSA Peugeot Citroën is doing a lot of work on electric vans in France in partnership with Venturi Automobiles and in conjunction with La Poste, the French equivalent to the Royal Mail. It's at quite an early stage, but if it's successful then there's no reason why we shouldn't benefit from it in the UK.
In this context it's interesting to note that Intelligent Energy and PSA Peugeot Citroën have come up with a prototype electric version of the Partner Origin fitted with a hydrogen fuel cell range extender that allows it to travel for almost 180 miles. But turning to distribution, do all Peugeot dealers sell vans or do you have a separate light commercial network?
Every single one of our 300 dealers sells vans. They're a core part of our range and to take them away from any of our dealers — thus making them less available to our customers — would be contrary to our whole strategy. We have 179 dealers who are designated as fleet and business centres and are especially attuned to the needs of business buyers, but they too handle both cars and vans.
What impact will the credit crunch, the soaring cost of diesel and the collapse in house prices have on the van market this year?
As yet we haven't seen any impact at all and our forecast is for it to remain stable. What will probably happen is an increased focus on running costs. That's likely to be good news for us given the fuel-efficiency of our diesel engines.