It was impossible to ignore Renault on the winners’ roll call for the 2015 What Van? Awards.

The French brand captured one of the biggies, with the new Trafic being crowned Medium Van of the Year along with its Vauxhall-badged equivalent the Vivaro, and also made off with the Editor’s Choice prize for the tiny Twizy Cargo, the Innovation Award for the blind spot mirror mounted in the Trafic’s passenger side sun visor and gained Highly Commended recognition for its Twin turbo diesel engine – again in the Editor’s Choice category.

The latter two awards were also shared with Vauxhall but it is worth noting that all the jointly awarded products were developed by Renault.

Steve Wilson, Renault’s LCV product manager, welcomed the recognition What Van? gave the Trafic.

“It gives us credibility in the industry for an independent voice to say it’s a good van,” he says.

Wilson says capturing the Medium Van Award was particularly satisfying because it meant the Trafic had overhauled the highly regarded Ford Transit Custom, What Van?’s 2014 Van of the Year, in the process. He adds that it gives the model impetus in a competitive sector that has just been joined by the new Mercedes-Benz Vito and will soon see the sixth generation Volkswagen Transporter further swell its ranks.

Wilson emphasisis that Renault is confident in the Trafic as an all round package – both in its appearance and its new twin turbo engines – and says of the award: “Hopefully it will help us sell more.”

The Traffic was the ninth best selling van in the UK in the first three months of the year with 3368 registrations but it may irk the brand that the UK-assembled Vauxhall Vivaro that it spawned was the second biggest seller on 7449 units.

Nevertheless, the outlook is looking bright for Renault with LCV sales overall up 37% in the first quarter to 5477, giving the brand a 5.5% market share. This builds on a 2014 full-year performance of 18,244 van sales – up 39% on the previous year.

And with the Trafic regularly accounting for at least 50% of sales, it is, as Wilson puts it, the key product.

Wilson describes the UK as a “hugely growing market” and predicts that 2015 could go on to be the biggest volume year ever for vans – topping 2007’s total of 337,741 (source: SMMT). He bases this forecast on the favourable exchange rate between the Pound and the Euro and the large amount of new product coming to market, while inserting a slight caveat about the affect of May’s General Election.

“The place to sell profitably is the UK,” Wilson asserts. “There’s always nervousness in an election year but that shouldn’t affect it (the market) too much.”

He says the aim for Renault is to achieve a market share of above 6% this year.

Wilson says Renault’s network of 130 UK dealerships, all of which host LCV demonstrators and specialists on site, will support future growth. The network includes 35 Pro+ dedicated fleet outlets, which are based in conurbations and profess to offer flexible opening hours and a faster turnaround for servicing, maintenance and repair work. These centres run a policy to provide a like-for-like replacement when vans are in for servicing.

“Pro+ should serve the one man plumber to fleets of hundreds (of vans),” says Wilson.

He claims the popularity of the Trafic with local traders is illustrated by the number of high-trim Sport models the brand sells – accounting for up to 40% of volume.

The higher specification Business+ and Sport derivatives are the ones dealers want on their forecourts, according to Wilson, with the key features for customers being parking sensors and air conditioning.

He says buyers are increasingly looking for the new 120 and 140hp Twin Turbo engines as opposed to the existing 90hp and 115hp units.

“There is a price walk of £600 plus VAT but you get better economy, residual values and drive and you will pay for that [£600] in a year,” Wilson claims.


Ongoing partnership

Wilson expects Renault’s collaboration with Opel/Vauxhall to continue but is keen to position the French brand as the dominant partner in the relationship.

“They are reliant totally on Renault,” he says, not only for the design of the Vivaro but also for its Renault-sourced engines and gearboxes. The high roofed version, meanwhile, is built at Renault’s plant in Sandouville because Vauxhall’s Luton plant cannot accommodate such body shapes.

With little to choose between the Trafic and Vivaro vans, Mark Dickens, Renault’s fleet sales operations manager, stresses that Renault must differentiate itself from Vauxhall through refining its customer service.

“We have a similar product to Vauxhall so where do we win business?” he asks.

“It has to be on the customer’s experience of the franchise.”


Pocket-sized brand ambassador

Wilson admits the eye-catching little plug-in van, the Twizy Cargo, is a good marketing tool for the Renault brand but insists it can also play an important role as an urban delivery vehicle, citing Domino Pizza’s use of the Twizy as an example.

He points out it’s easy to park, emission free, more comfortable than a motorbike and comes with, slightly, more storage space. It has a 75kg payload and 0.18m3 load box.

At the CV Show in April Renault demonstrated the Twizy’s versatility when it unveiled a rapid-response paramedic version of the electric van converted by body builder M&L and fitted with life-saving equipment for use in beach front resorts due to its ability to access pedestrian areas.

Wilson suggests estate agents wanting to promote their businesses around city streets are also likely to be attracted to the little EV and adds that the Twizy is already available to hire in the New Forest, Hampshire to enable visitors to explore the area via its forest pathways.

Renault took a big stand at the CV Show and used the space to display its wide range of conversions based on the Master heavy van and medium-sized Trafic.

Models included catering vehicles, a welfare van, a horsebox, a minibus and a wheelchair access van to name but a few.

As Wilson explains: “Last year we had new products – this year we’ve shown you what you can do with them.”

Renault claims it can satisfy three quarters of customers’ conversion demands straight from the factory but it also has a network of 30 UK Approved Convertors to cater for more niche requirements. All conversions come with the brand’s four-year, 100,000-mile warranty with roadside assistance.

Wilson expects the simple but very effective Wide View Mirror, which is currently offered on Trafic and Master as well as the Vauxhall equivalents, Vivaro and Movano, to become available on the Kangoo light van in the future. Positioned in the centre of the passenger’s sun visor, it dramatically increases the driver’s view to the rear behind the near-side shoulder of the van by more than doubling the angle of vision. For Business+ models the visual aid is standard but can be optioned on Business trim for just £50, excluding VAT.

Wilson claims the mirror is good news for residual values too with the feedback from valuation specialists CAP and Glass’s being positive.

A major development in the pipeline for Renault is a double-cab pick-up truck based on its alliance partner Nissan’s new Navara, which is set to go on sale at the end of the year.

Mercedes-Benz, which already has a relationship with Renault-Nissan due to its Citan light van being based on the Kangoo, is also to produce a pick-up from the Navara platform and continuing to rub shoulders with such prestige brand royalty is unlikely to do Renault’s reputation any harm. A launch date has not yet been announced for Renault’s version of the truck but all three models will be built at Nissan’s plant in Barcelona.