Vauxhall

Date: Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Martin Brindley is vehicle line director, medium and heavy vans, for GM Europe Commercial Vehicles and he has been spending time with our very own contributing editor Steve Banner.

The latest fruits of a long-standing agreement between General Motors (GM), Vauxhall’s parent company, and Renault, the new Vauxhall Movano and Renault Master are virtually identical to one another aside from their badges and grilles. Given that they’re built by Renault in France and use Renault-sourced powertrains, how much input did GM genuinely have into their development? Is it purely a badge-engineering exercise so far as GM’s involvement is concerned?


No. The two manufacturers have managed the programme jointly. Our team and Renault’s team worked together for several years on framing the vehicle’s design; even down to details such as where the in-cab drinks holders needed to be. We looked at which areas required improving compared with the previous Movano and both companies were very much involved in the whole front-wheel/rear-wheel drive discussion. Between us we concluded that it was best to offer both options. Once the vehicle was designed and the programme’s scope frozen then Renault proceeded with the engineering. Thereafter GM has been involved in the production planning and timing, and the ongoing monitoring of the programme.


Why offer the choice of either front- or rear-wheel drive? The old Movano was front-wheel drive (fwd) only.


Both have their particular strengths depending on the application. Fwd Movanos are lighter than rear-wheel drive (rwd) models — typically the difference is around 164kg — and that’s good news so far as payload capacity is concerned. Some drivers would say that fwd offers a better ride and handling than rwd too although I think that’s a matter of personal taste as much as anything else. On the other hand rwd offers better traction on loose surfaces and greater towing capacity. It is also better-suited to higher gross weights and the new Movano goes up to 4.5 tonnes. That’s new and exciting territory for us. I think that going completely rwd would have been a fairly high-risk strategy for us because we would have run the risk of losing existing customers who had favoured the previous Movano because it was fwd. This way, we have the chance of retaining them while widening our appeal, especially so far as chassis cab sales are concerned. When we were fwd-only the appeal of our chassis cabs was somewhat limited. A tipper version of the old Movano was available, but tipper customers tend to be biased in favour of rwd.


Fwd does have the advantage of a low loading height of course and it has to be said that Ford’s decision to offer Transit in both fwd and rwd guise has done its sales no harm at all. Fwd or rwd, virtually all Transit derivatives are fitted with Electronic Stability Programme as standard. So far as Movano is concerned, however, rwd models get it as standard, but fwd models don’t. Why not emulate Ford’s ESP policy?


I don’t think fwd Movano needs ESP. The handling and the overall control the driver has over the vehicle are fine without it; and if we standardised on it then we’d have to recover the cost from the customer. It is available as an extra-cost option, however, if the buyer wants it. From the safety viewpoint, remember that all Movanos, fwd and rwd, are fitted with ABS and disc brakes all round. They’re all equipped with Brake Assist too. If the system senses you need to stop really quickly and it’s an emergency then it boosts the line pressure to the maximum and reduces the stopping distance. With the old vehicle we used to quote a stopping distance of around 48m on a dry surface if you had to brake from 62mph and with the new one it’s down to around 45m. We have actually achieved figures below that under test conditions. If it’s not best in class so far as braking distances are concerned then it’s not far off and the previous model’s braking performance was impressive too.


What about airbags?


A driver’s airbag is standard and passenger and curtain airbags are available as options.


What has been done to make Movano capable of operating at 4.5 tonnes?


Measures taken include up-rating the rear leaf springs and fitting a bigger rear axle with twin wheels on each side.


What’s been done to improve Movano’s fuel economy and cut CO2 emissions?


Like its predecessor Movano is diesel-only, but this time around it gets a 2.3-litre engine rather than a 2.5-litre. That’s resulted in a reduction in fuel consumption of around 10 per cent — that means CO2 emissions are down too of course — but without any loss of power. In addition, torque has been pushed up by around 10 per cent, certainly so far as the lower power output versions of the engine are concerned. Much of what has been achieved is through the use of a more sophisticated turbocharging system which allows the maximum torque to be brought in lower down the rev range. The torque curve is a lot flatter than it was previously. The net result is that the latest Movano is much more tractable than the outgoing unit.


Have any other steps been taken?


There’s an indicator on the dashboard that tells you when to change gear and that should help reduce fuel usage. That said, it will depend on the driver. Some will obey it religiously. Others I suspect will treat it as a challenge and try to have the light on all the time.


Why are you marketing Movano in both Euro 4 and Euro 5 guise? Why not standardise on Euro 5?


Because Euro 5 is more expensive. As it happens the vehicle was originally going to be launched as Euro 5-only because when we were taking decisions four or five years ago we anticipated that Euro 5 would be mandatory by now. When its introduction was postponed, however, the engine was hastily retuned for Euro 4, which involved the removal of the particulate filter. Its use helps explain why the Euro 5 version is pricier.


Aside from reducing fuel usage, what other measures have been taken to cut Movano’s running costs?


Oil change intervals are set at 25,000 miles. The coolant only has to be changed at 100,000 miles compared with 75,000 miles previously and the timing gear is now chain- rather than belt-driven, so there’s no requirement to replace a belt. The chain is fitted for life. Parts such as disc brakes, disc pads and the clutch should now last on average around 20 per cent longer than those fitted to the previous model. In fact a study has been done in Germany which reveals that the latest Movano is roughly €4,500 cheaper to run than its predecessor over 100,000 miles/four years when maintenance costs, fuel consumption and projected residual values are taken into account.


Has anything else been done?


It’s worth noting that the new Movano is a bit more aerodynamic than its predecessor which helps bring fuel usage down. The tray under the engine, for instance, has a smooth surface and that tidies up the aerodynamics beneath the vehicle. A lot of work has been done too to keep the vehicle’s kerb weight down and maximise the payload — looking at the grade and the thickness of the steel being used for instance — with the result that Movano is around 20kg lighter than it would otherwise have been.


Bring a van’s unladen weight down and you bring its fuel consumption down too. But what attempts have been made to reduce noise, vibration and harshness?


A lot of detailed work has been done on, for example, the seals around the doors and the use of sound-absorbing material. Improving the van’s aerodynamics has helped bring down wind noise while fitting a dual-mass flywheel has helped cut down transmission noise.


Turning to the cab’s interior design, and its vast amount of storage space, why have you put the screen for the sat nav and the radio/CD display at the top of the windscreen rather than on the dashboard?


Because if we put it on the dashboard we wouldn’t have anywhere to put the pop-out clipboard. You soon get used to its positioning; and in fact it’s not a bad location for it.



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