Mr. Big

The relaunch of the Renault Master shows the large van sector is going to be very interesting this year.

Renault in certainly undergoing a major change in strategy within Australia. From having a proud heritage and a strong involvement in our country, the brand here went into decline, almost forgotten even amongst its competition, let alone its buying public.

Delivery Magazine ran the previous model Master on its fleet for three years, during which time it proved to be 100 percent reliable, a pleasure to drive and remarkably economical, returning a general fuel consumption of 9.2 l/100 km, almost irrespective of route or driver.

The Master has been absent from the Australian market, and it’s taken the new management team here a couple of years now to reinvent the brand, sort out a better dealer representation and to once again generate interest in all things Renault. While that may sound a daunting task, it should also be noted that back in Europe, Renault is not one of the leading light commercial vehicle manufacturers, it is “THE” leading light commercial vehicle manufacturer.

In the European region, including France, the Renault Group maintains a market share of over ten percent. When combining its passenger car and light commercial vehicle sales, the Renault Group was the number two brand with 8.6 percent, but it’s in the light commercial range that the success story is really highlighted.CAR_VANS_Renault-1

Renault has held the number one spot in light commercial vehicle sales in Europe since 1998, taking a market share of 15.6 percent. Sales are also increasing outside Europe, with Renault increasing its share by 19.2 percent in other markets to account for 43 percent of Group sales.

The statistics make one very valid statement. That Renault has the product to make significant inroads into the Australian market. What it needs to do to succeed though, is to convince the buyers it has the product, the backup and the will to succeed.

Buyers of Renault light commercials in Australia will now enjoy the support of a 24/7 breakdown assist and improved warranty coverage of three years and 200,000 km. By the end of 2012, the dealer group will have grown by over 30 percent, making it easier to find a Renault dealer, and, offering a much improved parts and service support.

Joining Justin Hocevar, the MD of Renault Australia, is another new appointee, Lyndon Healey, who takes on the role of LCV Brand Manager, with the intent and the ability to grow market share and introduce the Renault van brand to a whole new raft of customers.

So, having set the scene when it comes to an expectation of improved corporate ability in our backyard, just what does the company have to entice the light commercial vehicle buyer?

In 2011, Renault Australia sold 294 of its small van entry, the Kangoo, a sales increase of 320 percent against the previous year. It sold 253 of its mid-sized Trafic vans, up 59.1 percent over the previous year.

When it comes to the Master, sales in 2011 were abysmal. Peaking at just 68 units, the statistics indicated that stock levels just didn’t exist. What sales that did occur were basically the result of dealers exiting the old stock as the new Master went on sale in Europe and hadn’t made it to our market.CAR_VANS_Renault-5

In the medium to large segment of the van market, there’s a potential total annual sales volume to be achieved around 3,500-4,000 units, and that’s where Renault is setting its sights for the new Master.

At first sight, the new Master is much more positive in its appearance and stance. The big and bold cheese-cutter grille stands out, and the sloping window glass in the front doors make an important styling statement and point of difference from other competitors. The cab interior is completely redesigned, and all for the better result, plus, there’s a larger capacity diesel available with correspondingly improved power and torque outputs.

Renault is initially offering a medium wheelbase and a long wheelbase version of the new Master, each with a medium roof height and with each powered by the same engine but with a six-speed manual or six-speed automated manual gearbox.

The engine is a 2.3 litres, four-cylinder, and Euro 5 emissions compliant diesel engine. Maximum power of 107 kW at 3,500 rpm shows an increase over the previous engine by 19 kW, and a corresponding increase in torque of 50 Nm to peak at 350 Nm from 1,550-2,750 rpm.

Fuel economy is given as 8.5-9.0 l/100 km for the combined figure, and, with a fuel tank capacity of 105 litres, you’ll be refilling in some applications as far apart as 1,200 km intervals.

Payload for each van variant is around 1,600 kg, but cargo volumes do differ, the medium wheelbase version offering 10.3 cubic metres and the longer wheelbase version 12.5 cubic metres.

The new cab interior design is way above the level of the previous model. Both driver and passenger seats are exceptionally comfortable with a wide range of adjustment to suit all sizes and girths of drivers. All controls are easy to find and there are cup holders and bottle holders seemingly everywhere.

Both the medium and long wheelbase vans are being supplied with a full width and height steel bulkhead that includes a sneak preview window into the cargo area and vision out through the rear-door glass to the road behind. Bolted on behind the bulkhead is a full-sized, steel mesh cargo barrier, adding further OH&S protection from rogue packages in the event of a frontal impact.

One feature we really liked was the fold down centre passenger seat back that flops onto the seat base and provides a laptop computer or iPad swivel table that angles the laptop towards the driver. There’s also an abundance of clipboard sized storage areas in the dashboard, plus more space across the top of the windscreen.

This cabin is so well designed it’s something that prospective drivers and owners are going to have to experience for themselves, by actually climbing in a Master and seeing for themselves just what’s on offer.

And while on the subject of climbing in, as the Master is front-wheel-drive with a transverse engine, there is no driveshaft heading from the engine to the rear axle. That means the cargo floor height is lower, and entry and egress into the cargo van area is one step less than rear-wheel-drive alternatives.

Renault is letting buyers choose their ultimate access by offering a sliding door on one or both sides, or not at all, plus large barn doors at the rear that open up to 270 degrees and fold far enough away not to impede access for a forklift.

Renault is offering some additional interior packages for convenience features, including a driver’s suspension seat, a storage compartment under the dual passenger seat, integral Satnav with a screen mounted above the rear vision mirror, and a reverse camera with a screen mounted in the driver’s sunvisor.

This really is a high-end set of inclusions for a delivery van, and the driver and front-seat passenger are further protected by dual airbags. The safety inclusions take on electronic stability programmes as standard, load sensing brake balancing with ABS and three-point seat belts with pre-tensioners. Additional driver head and thorax airbags are optional, together with a cornering headlamps function and automatic on/off headlamps and wipers.CAR_VANS_Renault-4

Also included are cruise control, remote steering wheel twiddle knobs and buttons for the radio and auxiliary entertainment system, Bluetooth connectivity for mobile phones, multi-function trip computer, glove box coolers, two 12 Volt sockets in the cab and an optional one in the cargo area, power windows, powered door mirror adjustment and plenty of tie-down points in the cargo area.

The common-sense brigade has also been at work on the spec, with additional factory options such as a plywood floor and/or side walls, glazed side sliding doors, automatic climate control and heated rear window.

Delivery Magazine drove both van body versions and experienced at first hand both the six-speed manual and Quickshift AMT. The cable linkage of the manual gearlever worked well and the gearshift lever is well positioned. The AMT Quickshift is adaptive to input from the driver and has the intuitive ability to shift its gearchange points to suit individual driving style or attitude. xDrive hard and the AMT will hold onto each ratio longer and allow further acceleration in each gear. Drive gently and the shift points drop back to encourage maximum fuel economy.

So, with handling, ride comfort and ergonomics all literally at benchmark levels, this new Master is going to be hard to beat. Equally impressive is the pricing. At $43,990 for the medium wheelbase six-speed manual, and the longer wheelbase adding just $1,000 extra, these may be the hero models for those looking to hold onto the extra $2,500 for the Quickshift AMT.

With finance at an enterprising 3.9 percent interest rate through Renault dealerships, it looks as though the Master could quickly establish its position as a gamechanger in the large-van market.

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