Renault finally takes the Australian market seriously and, consequently, starts reaping the benefits
There’s huge potential for the European LCV manufacturers within the Australian market, but it is only there for the taking if the manufacturer concerned puts in the right degree of effort.
Fiat, Renault, Peugeot and Citroen have, in the past, languished in the doldrums, and Ford has not fared much better, seemingly having forgotten that it also produces the Transit van range. Now, that scenario looks set to change, at least for those prepared to pick up their act and kick themselves into gear if they are going to close the gap on Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen.
The first two manufacturers to get their act together are Fiat, with the Scudo and Ducato, and Renault, importers of the Kangoo, Trafic and Master. Expect to see a similar flurry of activity with Ford in the first quarter of 2014 as it gets to grips with the new Transit. As far as Peugeot and Citroen are concerned the lights have yet to be turned on at their respective head offices.
Although the Chinese manufacturers such as LDV started with a great fanfare of promised activity, they have all but disappeared in the subsequent marketing scrum, finding that the Australian buyer expects much more by way of product sophistication.
Although the initial sales were linked to the attractive low introductory pricing, buyers have pulled back from brands such as Great Wall and appear to be returning to manufacturers and importers that offer strong support for their products and higher levels of technology throughout their model ranges.
Compared to the Renault Australia attitude of five years ago, the French company is currently kicking goals on a grand scale. It produced 312,000 LCVs globally last year and sold slightly more, at a total of 321,000 units. It’s been Europe’s number-one supplier of LCVS for 15 years.
As an example of how it has boosted its performance in the Australian market within the past 12 months, the sales statistics show a current retail level of 1,704 registrations, an increase of 77 percent over 2012. Admittedly, its performance prior to 2012 was somewhat unimpressive, but with a brand repositioning and strong pricing competitiveness, the brand’s popularity is obviously turning around, with LCVs now accounting for around one third of all Renault sales in this country.
At the small end of the Renault range, the Kangoo is a strong little load carrier and highly impressive in both comfort and driving pleasure. Expect to see an all-electric version land in Australia during the first quarter of 2014 as the company trials its Kangoo ZE in selected inner urban fleet operations.
The Kangoo has also just received a face-lifted exterior, and, with a new and more functional interior, plus the debut of a new petrol engine version with manual transmission, its pricing of $19,990 puts it into the league to attack market leader, the VW Caddy, or indeed to generate new interest into this small van segment.
The medium-sized van contender in the Renault stable is the Trafic. This received an update back in 2011 and its distinctive styling really does make for a standout presence in any urban high street.
Off the back of these upgrades, Renault has been focusing its attention on product support. As Renault managing director, Justin Hocevar, explained to Delivery Magazine, this involves increasing its current dealership numbers and endorsing Pro+, establishing a greater emphasis on service, and specialisation in light commercials and fleet requirements amongst the retail outlets.
“We understand that LCV customers have different requirements to passenger car buyers. The vehicle is their lifeblood of their business, and they are very conscious of the total costs of ownership, especially if they run a fleet of vehicles,” he said.
Expect to see capped-price servicing and the introduction of loan vehicles for customers needing a replacement while their vehicles are being serviced. The process of buying a Renault LCV has also been simplified to that of a one-stop shop, with Renault offering its own vehicle insurance and finance packages, together with linking to interior fit-out specialist companies, able to supply internal racking and shelving systems.
Into this newfound activity comes the expansion of the Renault Master range, broadening the brand offering from panel vans to single and dual-cab/chassis models.
Technology within the large van range is really interesting at present, with Renault using a front-wheel-drive engine and transmission for its 3.5-tonne GVM rated Master models, but then switching to front engine, rear-wheel-drive for higher 4.5-tonne GVM versions.
It’s this higher weight range that is the latest addition to the Master product. The common theme throughout is the Euro V emissions rated, four-cylinder, 2.3-litre, turbo diesel. This a direct injection, turbocharged four-cylinder that is matched to a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed ZF AMT. Maximum power of 110 kW is produced at 3,500 rpm with peak torque of 350 Nm rated across the rev range from 1,500 to 2,750 rpm.
The rear-wheel-drive Master Single Cab comes in a choice of two chassis lengths, giving body builders plenty of scope from refrigerated boxes to flat-top trays. For those carrying a work crew, the dual-cab raises the number of seats to six passengers plus the driver.
Renault isn’t offering an all-wheel-drive version, but is offering an Eaton automatic differential lock as standard on the dual-cab or optional on the single-cab. In most cases, a locking rear diff will get the truck across all but the worst type of terrain.
The Renault Master Cab/Chassis offers a substantial payload of up to 2.5 tonnes, with an additional 3.0-tonne towing capacity, thanks to its dual rear wheels set-up that uses 195/75 R16 tyres on 5.5 x 16 rims. The rear suspension is by multi-leaf semi-elliptical springs.
A high level of safety equipment comes as standard, including dual airbags, ABS and electronic stability programme with ASR traction control, cruise control and variable speed limiter, and even a brake-pad wear indicator.
For the driver benefits, the inclusions come with remote central locking, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity and audio streaming, air conditioning, multifunction trip computer, a multitude of drinks holders, chilled glove box, overhead storage, and power front windows.
Rather than having to wait for a suitable body to be built on a chassis in dealer stock, Renault will be offering pre-bodied Master variants that include a locally sourced alloy or steel drop-side tray, satellite navigation, and a rear-view camera as well as an Isringhausen driver’s suspension seat.
Applications such as providing the base unit for an elevating work platform or fridge van are made more attractive due to the Master having a transmission-driven power take-off.
A number of the options are bundled together as a Safety & Security Pack, comprising auto headlights and rain sensing wipers, dual head and side airbags (non-suspension seat versions), fog lights, rear demister, alarm, and headlights with cornering lights.
The Premium Pack for Cab/Chassis models features an integrated sat-nav system, storage compartment under passenger seat, an additional large door bin, glasses storage and A4 dash-top document compartment lid.
The interior of the Master’s cabin is well thought through, with a centre seat back that drops forwards to provide a work station with swivelling laptop pad. The under-seat storage beneath the front passenger dual seat and the four rear passenger seats is another bonus, providing high volume space for boots, work clothes or even tools.
The Master Single Cab offers a choice of wheelbases, 3682 mm or 4332 mm, while the Dual Cab is only available in 4332mm. The longer Single Cab model can be built up to an overall length of almost 8.0 metres, of which almost 5.5 metres is load area.
Each of the Master variants drives well, offers a quiet and comfortable interior and provides excellent visibility through the large door mounted mirrors with convex lower spotter mirrors.
The operation of the Sat/Nav unit is annoyingly awkward, handled through a remote handheld that flops about on a wobbly dash mount. The Sat/Nav screen is mounted in the same region as the interior windscreen-mounted rear-vision mirror and conflicts on available space. In our view, a preferred alternative would be a standard suction cup mount on a personal unit mounted low in the windscreen.
Although automated manual transmissions have been improved in small vehicle applications, our view is that a fluid auto is still the better alternative for those that don’t like changing gears themselves. At an additional cost of $2,500, we would delete the AMT in favour of the manual six-speed. This performs well, is easy to use and matches the power and torque output of the engine well.
The Single Cab variant is priced from $45,490, and the Dual Cab from $50,490. The high-roof, long-wheelbase Master van offers a cargo area of 17 cubic metres, with a payload of 2134 kg at a pricing level from $50,990. This is the manufacturers’ recommended retail price, and does not include on-road costs or dealer delivery.
The high-roof van easily rivals the more conventional Australian approach of using a box-bodied light truck. The new breed of European van and single or dual-cab offers far higher comfort, ride and handling levels, and Delivery sees this market segment as being capable of substantial growth in the months to come.
Renault is offering the Master range with a three-year/200,000 km factory warranty as well as three years of Roadside Assistance, and capped-price servicing for the first 90,000 km or three years, whichever comes first.