This month Steve Banner met up with Darren Payne (left), director of fleet and commercial vehicle operations, and Örs Kovacs, product manager for Trafic and Master at Renault UK.
Renault has just unveiled the new Master. It features new 2.3-litre Euro 4 and Euro 5 diesel engines at 100hp, 125hp or 150hp, a Ford Transit-style choice of front- or rear-wheel drive, gross weights that extend up to 4.5 tonnes and a load cube of up to 17.0m3. Master is also marketed by Vauxhall as the Movano. So when does Master go on sale and will you have the entire line-up available immediately?
DP It goes on sale in May but we’re taking orders now.
ÖK Initially we’ll have the medium- and long-wheelbase vans available with both front- and rear-wheel drive. They will have medium-height roofs; the high roofs will come later. With the fwd models we’ll at first be able to offer the 100hp and the 125hp engine while the rwd versions will initially have the 150hp engine. We’ll be offering a couple of factory-built crew vans too. All that will cover about 70 per cent of our anticipated volume. We should have virtually the complete range on sale by the end of this year/start of 2011 including the chassis cabs.
Which extra-cost options will be the most popular?
ÖK We sell option packs and we believe that the Comfort+ pack, which includes rear parking sensors and air conditioning, will be the one that’s most widely specified. We’d expect at least 30 per cent of Masters to be sold with it, primarily the vans. However, we have other options — climate control for instance — that we’ve never been able to offer before and they could prove very popular too.
DP We have in fact been driving up the specification levels on Master and we’re now offering a Carminat TomTom as standard on everything apart from the entry-level Freeway. We’re looking at marketing Freeway versions of every model in our range as a sort of sub-brand.
Electronic Stability Programme is standard on rwd Masters. Why isn’t it standard on fwd versions too? Is it correct that it is not even being offered as an option?
ÖK ESP will not be available as an option on fwd Master from launch, but it will be later on. When it does become available we’ll look at whether we should make it standard.
Will you be offering special conversions such as tippers and dropsides?
DP We’ll be introducing a line-up direct from the factory that will address the vast majority of conversion requirements. We reckon it will account for 55 per cent of our sales of converted vehicles. We will of course be working with UK converters too.
ÖK Our factory conversions will carry the same warranty as our standard models and the entire product will be covered by European Whole Vehicle Type Approval. One model that we’ll be offering will be a three-way tipper. We’ll be marketing an end-tipper too and both feature alloy sides and a steel floor.
Will we be seeing a minibus version of new Master?
ÖK Yes. We’ll have a factory-built fwd 17-seater — the current one is a 16-seater — on sale by the end of the year. We also have a long-term project to produce a rwd 20-seater bus.
How big a percentage of Masters will be sold at above 3.5 tonnes?
ÖK From five to seven per cent. That should increase over time as customers become more familiar with the higher gross weight products in the Master range.
How will dealers manage to cope with selling and servicing 4.5-tonners given their unfamiliarity with that sector of the market?
DP We’re putting them through a suitably tailored training programme prior to the on-sale date. We’ve also restructured our network with the introduction of Pro+ dealers; we should have 22 by the end of the year. They offer longer workshop opening hours to suit their local market, 7.0-tonne-capacity workshop ramps, rapid turnaround times for service customers and courtesy vans appropriate to the customer’s needs. They should have one or two conversions on display too.
How many dealers can sell your entire range of light commercials?
DP All 200, but we’re going to have 50 dealers that are designated as business dealers. They’ll all be in place during the second quarter of this year; in fact we’ve probably got about 40 in place already under our current dealer programme. They’ll have extra expertise in light commercials and will have a van expert available to help. They’ll have vans on display and will be able to source conversions from our Pro+ dealers to show customers. The Pro+ concept is pan-European but business dealers are unique to the UK.
Do you still have stocks of the current Master available?
DP We’ve got enough left to satisfy the likely demand. We certainly haven’t got excessive stocks so it will be a seamless transition from the old model to the new one.
When will you be launching the Phase III Trafic?
ÖK It will go on sale 4 June as will the new long-wheelbase Kangoo Van Maxi and we’re taking orders now. Phase III Trafic represents a minor facelift with no exterior changes; after all, it still looks fresh. Inside we’ve slightly redesigned the dashboard so that it can host the Carminat TomTom navigation unit. It will be standard along with integrated BlueTooth. We’ve also made some changes to the speedometer and the revcounter. Once again from the stock viewpoint we’ll see a seamless transition from the current model to the new one.
The Maxi’s launch means that you’re able to offer the same model in three different sizes with three different wheelbases and the same roof height because you also offer the Kangoo Compact and the standard Kangoo van. What sort of percentage of total Kangoo volume will Maxi take?
DP Approximately 15 per cent and we’ll be marketing a VAT-reclaimable crew van version as well as a straightforward van. TomTom will be available across the Kangoo range too.
ÖK We see the L2 versions of Peugeot’s Partner and Citroën’s Berlingo as among Maxi’s key rivals, but they of course have an extended rear overhang rather than a longer wheelbase. Ford’s Transit Connect will be a competitor too.
Any plans to re-introduce the Clio van?
ÖK No. The Kangoo Compact will be our smallest model.
I understand, however, that there’s the possibility of a van version of the electric Twizy for use on city centre delivery work with a 1.0m3 cargo box replacing the back seat. It would of course be smaller than Compact. At present we’re hearing a lot about light commercials powered by alternative fuels. What else is Renault up to in this area?
DP We’ll be launching a medium-wheelbase electric Kangoo van next year with a 150-mile range between recharges. Unfortunately operators who buy an electric van don’t benefit from the £5,000 government subsidy you get if you buy an electric car and we’d like that to change. We’re seeing more and more van fleet operators focusing on bringing down their CO2 emission levels, but it has to be a financially viable thing for them to do. In this context it’s worth noting that we’ll be leasing out the van’s battery which will bring the acquisition cost down to around the cost of the diesel equivalent.
In the current economic climate many businesses are still finding it difficult to fund the acquisition of new vehicles. How are you setting about helping them?
DP We’ve forged close links with Arval (a vehicle leasing and management giant owned by BNP Paribas – SB) which means we can offer some very competitive contract hire packages. We can put together some very competitive HP offers too and we’re now seeing dealers handle a higher percentage of the finance required by small business customers than we did previously.
Where do you think the total UK van market will finish up this year compared with 2009’s disastrous performance?
DP We’re predicting a modest improvement, to around 200,000 registrations. But that’s a long way behind what we’ve seen in previous years.
So will we see a more convincing upturn in 2011?
DP I certainly hope so.