The mid-sized Trafic is leading the charge as the French manufacturer seeks to increase its share of the UK market. James Dallas reports
Renault is enjoying a renaissance in the UK market and its light commercial vehicles are leading the way.
In 2015 sales were up 39.6% in the full year to 25,371 units, according to the SMMT, consolidating strong growth in the previous two years, and in December volumes rocketed by 80% to 4140, ensuring the brand enjoyed a happy festive period. Renault’s UK sales director, Darren Payne called it “a cracking year”.
Another strong showing at the What Van? Awards will have further improved the manufacturer’s sense that the pieces are falling into place.
The Trafic, alongside the Vauxhall-badged version of the Renault-designed van, the Vivara, retained the Medium Van prize in the face of strong competition from the new Mercedes Vito and Volkswagen Transporter, while the Commercial version of the Duster – from Renault’s budget brand Dacia, swept to the top of the 4x4 category in its first year on the market.
Payne, is particularly pleased with the continuing success of the Trafic.
“The Trafic is our core van with 54% of sales,” he points out.
Winning the Medium Van Award again “reinforces the reputation of the product in the market”, he says – particularly in terms of its quality and reliability.
“To have an independent [title] crown the product for a second year gives customers confidence,” Payne claims.
As for the Duster, a modestly priced but reasonably refined car-derived LCV, Payne reckons the recognition from What Van? will “increase awareness of a unique product” for which the volume aspirations will always be modest but that nevertheless meets the requirements of a small band of customers who need to take tools or deliveries to locations that may prove tricky for regular 2WD vans.
Renault operates the budget brand Dacia as a separate franchise but under the same dealership roof as the parent company.
“Dacia has enabled us to reposition Renault,” says Payne but admits there are no plans to bring more Dacia LCV models to the UK.
Instead the manufacturer is building up its Pro-Plus business retail network (launched in 2010) to support expansion in its Renault LCV division.
“This is our focus,” Payne says.
Last year it grew the number of sites from 36 to 40 and by the end of 2017 it plans to have 79 up and running.
While every dealership in Renault’s 165-strong UK network can sell and service vans the Pro-Plus centres have dedicated LCV staff, offer bespoke out of hours servicing and house heavier and higher ramps to accommodate large vans.
“They must deliver the standards customers require,” stresses Payne, “the commitments must work.”
In the current market climate, with the anti-diesel lobby becoming more vociferous and every likelihood that more cities will follow London’s lead by introducing low-emission zones, Renault is well-placed to take advantage of any shift towards electric vans, with its Kangoo ZE being, arguably the most well-established plug-in LCV available.
But Payne is frustrated that demand remains minimal. He argues that while the market for electric cars is taking off there is still very little awareness of the availability of electric vans, despite there being a strong business case for their use in towns and cities.
“We could do with better promotion,” he says and suggests the market will not expand until a greater mass of electric vans, from more manufacturers, becomes available.
“We have the product – the best way to have low emissions is to have none,” says Payne.
He points out that the Kangoo ZE has sufficient range to cope with the set urban routes most delivery vans take and adds that payload is not an issue as, at 650kg, it matches that of diesel versions.
Payne is more confident Renault can have a major impact on the well-established pick-up sector when it enters the market with the production version of its Alaskan concept. He says the truck, which is based on Nissan’s Navara, will be unveiled this year before going on sale early in 2017.
“The new pick-up will allow us into an exciting area of the market.”
Payne insists that despite the vehicle’s Navara underpinning it bears a distinctly Renault-like appearance and is “not a rebadged Nissan”.
Renault’s pick-up is likely to occupy the middle ground in the sector between, for example, Isuzu’s D-max and VW’s Amarok as well as Mercedes’ forthcoming premium model, which is also based on the Navara. This would see it going head to head against the Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux, Mitsubishi L200 and its spin-off - Fiat’s debut pick-up the Fullback.
But Payne admits: “We are working on how to position it [Renault’s pick-up], it’s a work in progress.”
He is impatient for the brand to launch the pick-up, describing it as a global product and an “incremental model”.
“We are entering a competitive sector with established rivals,” Payne says and acknowledges that the pick-up will have to be an exciting product to make its mark.
But he expects the pick-up to benefit from a “positive spin-off” from the Renault van range. Payne is also confident the new model will act as a bridge between its LCVs and its SUV line-up, which includes the Captur and the Kajar although it would be little surprise if a larger model from the same platform as its partner Nissan’s Xtrail was to be introduced in future.
Renault used last year’s CV Show to promote its range of Master and Trafic-based conversions, an area where Renault “sees opportunities”, as Payne puts it. There is room for growth: He admits the brand’s share of the conversion market is only half of the 6.7% it commands in UK vans overall but claims this share will grow alongside the expanding retail network.
But having spent 19 years as Europe’s number one LCV manufacturer Payne describes the brand’s position in the UK as “an anomaly”.
“In 2016 we would like to add a point of market share on vans,” he says.
From the tiny electric Twizy Cargo, winner of the Editor’s Choice Award at the 2015 What Van? Awards, to the 3.5t Master, Payne insists Renault has a strong foundation for growth in light commercials by offering a breadth of models other brands can not match.
“Dealers have lots of tools available,” he claims.
Payne expects dealers to be adept at selling to both local operators and major fleets with there being a fairly even split between the two of 47% to 53%.
“The range appeals to individuals with one van up to fleets of hundreds,” he says.
RAC switches to the Master
Just before Christmas Renault secured a fleet deal with the RAC.
The 26 Master vans the first the motoring organisation has taken on from the brand, have been converted for Fuel Patrols to assist RAC members who have mis-fuelled their own vehicles.
The Master vans have replaced a fleet of Ford Transits.
In addition to providing a recovery service for drivers who have put the wrong fuel into their vehicles, the patrols will attend callouts for flat batteries and wheel changes with the vans carrying replacement batteries and the RAC’s universal spare wheel.
The RAC said it opted for the Master vans because of their increased payload capacity of up to 1684kg, meaning they can accommodate all the kit the patrols require, including a 300-litre tank and engine-draining equipment, which can only be accessed through the rear doors, while providing sufficient working space in the body of the van. The vans also carry enough spare fuel to enable the customer to reach the nearest service station.
The RAC chose the front-wheel-drive, short-wheelbase, low-roof Master panel van. All 26 vans feature the Business trim level and are powered by the 2.3-litre dCi 125 turbo diesel engine.