Awards profile: Renault stands up to be counted upon

Date: Friday, March 24, 2017   |   Author: James Dallas

The Renault Trafic’s status as a triple What Van? Award winner – it has scooped the Medium Van of the year Award two times and followed this up in 2017 by capturing the Editor’s Choice prize – is something the brand likes to keep front of focus in its marketing activity, particularly its radio ads.

“It plays on the dependability and reliability of the product,” LCV product manager Steve Wilson says of the promotional material. “That’s what people are looking for.”

Wilson says the recognition from What Van? offers independent “proof” of the Trafic’s quality while also highlighting the “longevity of the product three years down the line”.
He says a facelift of the Trafic, which will include updates to safety equipment, is in the pipeline, but cannot confirm as yet when this
will happen.

As the brand’s most popular vehicle (it accounts for 60% of sales, or 15,000 units annually), Wilson says the Trafic tends to lead the way in terms of introducing new technology to the line-up.

Show formula

Renault is to display special Formula Editions of its Kangoo, Trafic and Master vans at the CV Show in April. Finished in black with yellow trimmings to tie in with the styling of Renault’s Formula 1 racing team, the models come with extra kit compared with standard derivatives, such as air-conditioning, speed limiter and alloy wheels.

The Formula Edition vans are also employed as part of a logistics partnership between the Renault Pro+ network and the Formula 1 team in transporting components between factories and the racing team’s workshops.

Wilson explains the special edition versions are aimed at SMEs and owner-drivers who want to stand out from the crowd. He adds: “We are using the partnership to emphasise the technology and reliability of the vans.”

In the UK, Renault is increasingly adopting the Renault Pro+ brand that covers its LCV range globally. Wilson explains this is similar to how Volkswagen uses its Volkswagen Commercial Vehicle branding to differentiate it from its passenger car operation.

Under the Pro+ umbrella are included 40 specialist LCV dealerships among a total network of 160 sites – all of which can sell vans. The Pro+ centres, however, display the full van line-up as well as a selection of factory-converted conversions.

According to Wilson, they offer an “exemplary business service on LCVs”, including superior diagnostic equipment and like-for-like replacement vans. “The idea in the UK is to grow the Pro+ network,” he says. “They must have the facilities, the vehicles and the people with the LCV knowledge,”

As an example, he adds: “They must know about towing regulations and payloads.”
Aside from special editions, Renault’s van line-up is divided into three trim levels: Business, Business+ and Sport. Wilson says medium van (Trafic) customers gravitate towards higher-specification models, light van (Kangoo) buyers tend to go for the mid-trim level, while large van (Master) customers are more likely to make choices based on practical payload and load volume capacities rather than specification.

When it comes to collaborations with other brands, Wilson claims it is “a feather in our cap” that Fiat Professional and Nissan are happy for Renault to build their respective Talento and NV300 vans on the Trafic platform, and likewise that Mercedes bases its Citan light van on the Kangoo.

Referring specifically to the Trafic platform, Wilson argues: “When that many vans are on the road, no matter the badge, you get converter economies of scale.”

He points out that when sales of all the Trafic-based models are combined, including, of course, the Luton-built Vauxhall Vivaro, then the total is not far short of the 49,744 (a Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ figure) reached by the UK’s best-selling van, the Ford Transit Custom, in 2016.

Electric re-boot

The oldest van in the Renault line-up is the Kangoo, this generation having been around since 2011. Wilson says the planning is in place for the next model, and with it the Mercedes Citan, which shares its platform, but in the meantime the range will get a shot in the arm in the second quarter of this year with a re-booted plug-in ZE Kangoo, which sees its real-world range increase from 106 to 167 miles due to improved batteries that can now be fully charged in six rather than eight hours.

There will also be a dual-clutch automatic version of the diesel-powered Kangoo coming to market before the half-year point. Wilson predicts the auto will find favour with small-drop pharmaceutical businesses and motor factors for parts deliveries.

Prices are not yet revealed, but Wilson says: “Customers will pay a bit more upfront but will save in maintenance costs.” Alongside these models Renault will also introduce the Kangoo Enhanced Traction for customers requiring some light-duty off-road capability. This version, together with its equivalent Trafic and Master, were to have been badged X-Trak but Renault had to rename them due to what Wilson called “a copyright issue”.

In addition to the all-wheel drive Master, Renault is to launch a ZE derivative of the large van in the final quarter of 2017. The conversion to an electric powertrain is undertaken by PVI, a company Renault bought in February of this year.

Wilson says the ZE Master is designed for last-mile delivery assignments in urban environments that are becoming increasingly hostile to diesel vans due to low-emission zones and congestion charges.

He claims the ZE has a real-world range of 75 miles and a payload of 1,000kg, which is 400kg less than the diesel equivalent. Loadspace of 13.0m3 remains unchanged, however.
Wilson supports the move, for which the SMMT and manufacturers such as Ford and Iveco are lobbying, to increase the weight limit of electric vans that can be driven without an ‘O’ licence, from 3.5 to 4.25 tonnes.

“My view is anything that allows more environmentally friendly vehicles is a good thing,” he says. But Wilson cautions that any increase in the legal weight must not push the van beyond the driver’s skill capability and advises that the increase should be confined to electric vehicles and not extended to hybrids, which could create a loophole through which operators would take advantage of the increased payload without using the alternative fuel.

“There should not be grey areas – it must be done for the right reasons,” he says. What certainly lies ahead is the UK’s exit from the European Union and Renault, like every other brand in the market, must adapt to a post-Brexit future. Wilson, on the face of it at least, appears sanguine about the prospect. “The UK is a huge market,” he says, “and Renault, like every other manufacturer, wants to be in it.”


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