How will Renault ward off the threat posed by Peugeot's Bipper, Citroen's Nemo and Fiat's Fiorino? With a short-wheelbase version of its new Kangoo Van, that's how.
Based on the Scenic platform, both Kangoo models made their worldwide debut at this year's European Road Transport Show, held as always at Amsterdam's sprawling RAI exhibition centre.
Go for the short-wheelbase Kangoo Van Compact and you get a 2.3m3 load area and the ability to shift a 500kg cargo. Select the standard wheelbase and load cube rises to 3.0m3 and you can transport from 650kg to 800kg depending on which model you select.
Flatten Compact's passenger seat and you've just boosted load space to 2.9m3. Do the same to the standard Kangoo and it goes up to 3.6m3. Both facilities are optional.
Customers can pick from a 1.5 dCi diesel at 70hp, 85hp or 105hp or a 1.6-litre petrol lump at either 90hp or 105hp. Both engines are on offer with a five-speed manual gearbox with the most powerful of the diesels sold with a six-speed. No matter whether you're talking petrol or diesel, the 105hp option isn't available in Compact.
ABS is standard, both vans boast a cleverly designed cab interior and can be ordered with a TunePoint system. Sitting in the glovebox it allows the cab's occupants to listen to their own music collection via three ports for connecting USB keys, MP3 players and iPods. A hands-free Bluetooth connection is also available.
Up for grabs with two trim levels, the new Kangoos won't be on sale in Britain until the second half of 2008. Renault may lose out slightly as a consequence given that Bipper and its stablemates look set to arrive here next spring.
Something that may aid the Compact's fortunes, however, will be the demise of the Clio Campus Van, scheduled for next year. Canny Renault dealers will doubtless attempt to switch buyers who might otherwise have bought Campus into the Compact.
Bipper and Nemo took their global bow at Amsterdam too. Fiorino was there as well, having first broken cover at a show in Italy a short while before.
The fruits of a joint venture between PSA Peugeot and Citroen's parent Fiat and Turkish manufacturer Tofas, each member of the Turkish-built trio shares the same basic design. Slotting in beneath models such as Citroen's Berlingo, but above hatchback car-derived vans such as Peugeot's 207, they offer a 2.5m3 cargo area and can carry 610kg.
The big difference lies in their diesel engines. Bipper and Nemo take a PSA-sourced 1.4-litre HDi generating 68hp while Fiorino gets a 1.3-litre Multijet engine from Fiat generating 75hp. Petrol engines are available too, and all three vehicles can be specified with an automated manual gearbox.
Fiat is additionally marketing an electric Fiorino developed in conjunction with Italian specialist Micro-Vett. Powered by lithium-ion batteries, it is said to have a top speed of over 50mph and a range of just over 60 miles. Unfortunately the weight of the battery pack drags the payload down to just 400kg.
Moving up the weight scale, LDV now stressing the Maxus brand in Continental Europe rather than its company name was exhibiting a concept 7.5-tonner called the MX100. The Birmingham-based manufacturer is owned by GAZ of Russia, and the newcomer is based on a GAZ model called the Valdai that's been redesigned to make it more acceptable to Western customers.
The work has been done by automotive engineering and styling specialist UltraMotive and the results are impressive.
The rear-wheel drive MX100 chassis cab there are no plans to produce it as an integral van gets an attractive cab that shares the Maxus family look and employs the smaller vehicle's dashboard.
Air-operated disc brakes are fitted all round along with a beefy chassis and LDV executives reckon their new baby should be able to handle a 4.0-tonne-plus payload. The show vehicle was fitted with a dropside body built by Ingimex of Telford.
Unfortunately MX100 has yet to be fitted with a Euro 4/Euro 5-compliant engine and without one it cannot be sold within the EU. LDV is working on sourcing a suitable 3.0-litre diesel with 150hp on tap and a top torque figure of 350Nm. It should have one in place in 15 to 18 months time.
Longer-term it could be using diesels built by GAZ itself as part of a multi-million-pound investment programme. While MX100 is being touted as a concept, we reckon it's almost bound to go on sale once the right engine is found.
Elsewhere on the stand was the first Maxus chassis cab we've seen fitted with a box body. The body was built by Saxas of Germany.
Sliding back down the weight scale, Volkswagen chose the RAI for its worldwide launch of the Caddy Maxi. An addition to the Caddy line-up, it's longer than its stablemate and features a 4.2m3 cargo area.
Able to carry up to 800kg, it's produced with a pair of TDI diesels. The 1.9-litre pumps out 105hp while the 2.0-litre generates 140hp. Petrol power is on offer too, but seems unlikely to figure in the UK van range when Maxi arrives here next February.
Also on the VW stand was the Caddy BlueMotion concept vehicle. Based on the standard Caddy, it can cover over 60 miles on little more than a gallon of diesel thanks to tweaks to the engine management software, longer gearing and a variety of aerodynamic measures.
Anybody wandering over to the Iveco stand could have been forgiven for thinking that they'd spotted a Land Rover Defender. What they'd seen was an Iveco Massif 4x4, due here in just under a year's time and to be marketed as a passenger car, a pick-up and a hard-top.
Built in Spain by Santana the Spanish operation assembled Land Rovers many years ago it's an unabashed Defender rival.
Our aim is to compete with the Defender 90 and 110 in particular, says Iveco's UK marketing director, Andrea Bucci. Initially we should be able to sell 500 to 1,000 units annually. Fitted with selectable four-wheel drive a low set of gears is available if you want to venture off road Massif is powered by a 3.0-litre Iveco diesel at either 146hp or 176hp.
Not far from Massif was the new 4x4 Daily full details were in the last issue and can be found on our web site not to mention a Daily hybrid diesel-electric 3.5 tonne van and one that can run on compressed natural gas. A hybrid Eurocargo was on show too.
The electric Fiorino and the hybrid and gas Ivecos weren't the only vehicles on display equipped with alternative power sources. Coventry-based electric van specialist Modec was making its presence felt, while Hytruck of the Netherlands was exhibiting a Mitsubishi Fuso Canter 7.5-tonner fitted with a power pack that includes fuel cells, lithium-ion batteries and hub-mounted electric motors in the rear wheels.
Drawing hydrogen from a tank mounted between the longitudinal chassis members it holds 200 litres of hydrogen at a pressure of 350 bar the fuel cells funnel power to the batteries that drive the electric motors. Regenerative braking ensures that the batteries receive a boost every time the driver slams on the anchors.
A major player in the 7.5-tonne market, Daf is going the hybrid route, with seven prototype LF hybrids set to go into service with UK operators early next year. It's clear that the environment will be central to political and public life for decades to come and you can be certain that the restrictions and challenges facing us now are only the beginning of a long, hard and complicated road, says UK managing director, Stewart Hunt.
The RAI show is undoubtedly the place to go if you're interested in unusual conversions. Netras Mobile Systems of the Netherlands was busy extolling the virtues of its City-L 3.5 distribution system. It employs interchangeable containers used in conjunction with a front-wheel drive 3.5-tonner and can cope with a 1,500kg payload.
The vehicle makes use of a cab and engine from, say, a Renault Master connected to a space frame shaped like a horizontal U, with the open end of the U pointing towards the rear and no back axle. The rear wheels are mounted on stub axles instead.
The lack of a standard back axle means the container being transported can be lowered flat to the floor. Cargo can be wheeled in and out and there's no need to go to the expense of fitting a tail lift.
Furthermore, the container can be raised so that its load bed is 1,400mm from the ground. That makes it easier to load and unload items if the vehicle has been reversed up to a loading dock designed for heavy trucks.
A slightly different way of achieving the same end was being exhibited by Germany's Ruthmann. Reminiscent of the Razorback system that got a lot of publicity in the UK a few years back, Flexiloader allows a front-wheel drive panel van's load bed to be lowered all the way to ground level.
CombiGroep of the Netherlands was displaying a lightweight alloy tipper body designed for refuse collection and mounted inside the load bed of a Fiat Strada pick-up. There's a sliding door on each side so that rubbish can be thrown in and a top-hinged rear hatch to allow it to be tipped out.
Strada isn't sold in the UK, but the body itself could slot into pick-up models that are. Piaggio's Porter is one that springs to mind.
Snoeks was exhibiting a wild and wacky double cab pick-up it had built as a bit of fun, complete with a lurid paint job. The well-known Dutch converter's big speciality is adding a second row of seats to a panel van along with a bulkhead so that a crew of half-a-dozen workers can travel in comfort and safety with their tools in a cargo area right at the back.
Dutch manufacturer Equinox was showing a range of stainless steel roof racks. Company executives say that they are 40 per cent lighter than racks made from ordinary steel. Stainless is so strong that you don't need so much of it.
Our racks are about the same weight as alloy racks and about the same price; maybe a little cheaper, contends an Equinox spokesman. In theory alloy racks should be lighter, but in practice they aren't because you need to use quite thick alloy to maintain the strength.
Beks Systems, another local firm, was displaying a van load area storage system made up of long, solidly constructed drawers than can be slid out through the rear and side doors for easier access to their contents.
Whisper it quietly, but some van and truck industry bigwigs are apparently plotting to downgrade the status of the Amsterdam exhibition. In our view that would be a major mistake.
For Britons one of its big plus-points is that it's so easy and cheap to fly to thanks to the budget airlines. You can get there from almost any airport worthy of the name in the UK and if you jet off to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport from Luton you'll be in the air for no more than 40 minutes.
From Schiphol it's a short train ride to the RAI station, with all the varied delights of Amsterdam itself to sample in the evening if you fancy staying overnight.
Whatever the future of the RAI CV show may be, this year's event was a resounding success and there were easily enough new product debuts to keep everybody happy. The only problem with being the only right-hand drive market in Mainland Europe is that we won't see any of them in the UK until next year.