Coffee With… Renault LCV brand manager Steve Wilson

How did 2017 go for Renault, and what are your expectations for 2018?

Essentially, 2017 has been a very challenging year, clearly we are in a very competitive market. The van market peaked in 2015/2016 at 375,000-380,000 units. This year the market has dropped a bit and you have new players such as MAN coming in, so all in all it is a slightly smaller market with more players to battle with for the spoils.

Alongside that we have the B word – Brexit – which creates an uncertain market and affects the exchange rate. This means we have had to take a view on the market as a company.

There is certain business, which is extremely competitive, that we have actually said thanks but no thanks to. Instead, we want business that is sustainable for Renault UK and has the right size of margins for profit. As a brand over the course of this year, we haven’t met what we planned for but we are also quite comfortable with what we will have done at the end of 2017.

Pause on pick-up

The Alaskan pick-up truck, shown at the 2017 CV Show and launched in Europe and other markets, is not yet confirmed for the UK market, says Wilson.

“There was a European launch event, but because we haven’t officially said when it will come to the UK, we decided we would not be part of it,” he says. “There is a lot of consideration about launching any product, whether internal or external. We will be able to say more when we know when we are launching.Renault Alaskan

“It has got to be right, and it is not a market we have been in before and we need to make sure that, as and when we do it, it is right for the UK market. We’re still saying ‘when’ at the moment but we are not confirming.”

 

The future is long-term sustainable business for LCVs in the UK. We believe that the market has peaked, so it will be looking to fall further, not massively – it is still at high sustainable levels. However, to take advantage of this we need to build a stronger brand of Renault UK and we are doing a lot of work relaunching the brand from next year onwards.

 

How will a relaunch help you stand out more in a market where there is both a great deal of competition and also similarity among vehicles?

The brand is Renault Pro+ Commercial Vehicles, and that is what you will hopefully be seeing a lot of over the next five years. There are three pillars on which the brand’s future stands. For a start, there is one very strong area in which we stand out, and that is electric vehicles. To that end, market leadership in zero-emissions motoring is something that we will definitely be working towards.

On the product side, we’ll be differentiating the product as much as exceeding customer expectations through the dealer network.

We have new product coming and we have a pretty good reputation in the network, but nevertheless we need to get better and better.

 

What are those new products that you are planning to launch during 2018?

The area we are really focusing on next year is increasing the number of converted products. We have got a broad range of factory conversions that is expanding next year. We are also planning to increase our number of local accredited converters in the UK. At the moment, we have around 25 Renault Approved in the UK, that meet the standards we would expect for product, systems, process and aftersales.

We are constantly looking for new products in this year. Even though the overall vans market is down, demand is increasing in the conversions market and more and more people are looking for specialist bespoke products.

We currently offer Master six-, nine- and 17-seat minibuses, Master tipper, dropside and box vans. We have Trafic minibuses, crew vans and base chassis cabs. Nonetheless, we probably haven’t sold quite as well as we could have.

We’re talking conversions based on Master, and we have some local products on Master and Trafic. Two of the products are due next year, one in Q2 and Q3/4, and another in 2019. We’re hoping to have one of the accredited conversion products at the CV Show at the NEC in April.

 

The Master ZE is part of next year’s plans, and there are soon to be a lot of rivals in that electric market. How do you lay your marker down?

Renault Master ZE 2018We already have a very established electric vehicle brand with Kangoo ZE and the Zoe. The Kangoo Z.E.33 was launched this year and we are already seeing a real step up in orders. That’s because we have a tried and tested technology and we have a network that is totally geared up to maintaining and servicing it, so we are the brand that’s best set up in the market to be launching such a product. When we launch the Master ZE (pictured), it is all tried and tested technology: we know that it works and our network knows how it works.

PSA/OPEL’S KNOCK ON IMPACT

The Renault Trafic shares a platform with several vans in the market, with the Vauxhall Vivaro one such vehicle. Does the recent takeover of Opel by the PSA Group have any impact on Renault’s plans?

“Nothing has changed as far as we have seen. As far as what Opel and Citroen will do, I don’t know. We will just carry on and make the Trafic as attractive a prospect as possible. It is a headquarter relationship, so it is nothing to do with us.

“The relationship is between Opel and Renault in Paris and what is being discussed there we really don’t know. Vauxhall builds on the same platform but remains a competitor.”

 

The Master ZE was the product that created the most interest on the stand at the CV Show this year. For the past four years the Kangoo ZE hasn’t sold in big volumes but it has been a great learning process for Renault and the dealer network, and now as a technology electric power is really taking off and we are in a great position.

 

What do you anticipate the sales volumes to be like?

I couldn’t forecast sales for Master ZE but the general feeling is that we won’t be able to get enough to meet demand as there is so much demand out there. We are very positive about it.

I can’t name names, but there are fleets from high-profile names, to larger fleets to smaller, more strategic names – it is a good mix but there are an awful lot of big names that, once we launch, I am sure we will be selling to.

The Kangoo customer base is a good base; they are advocates and there are high profile names there. There are a lot of people out there that have run Kangoo ZEs that know how they operate – Kangoo works great and they just need a bigger van.

 

We’ve seen a negative impact on sales of diesel models in the car industry, is there a role for a petrol alternative in the CV industry?

I think you have to look at all the options for alternatives. If there are going to be issues on diesel, then there are reasons to make it more expensive to drive in places like towns and cities. In that situation, it can be an advantage to offer an alternative fuel.

We have a range of fantastic electric vehicles, which is one area, the other area is hydrogen fuel cell or petrol vehicles – there are certain things I can’t give away but there is certainly a lot of work going on behind the scenes looking at lots of alternatives for the future.

We’ve got electric at the moment, but in the years to come, there will be places for alternatives. Vans are slightly more difficult in some respect – for the larger models diesel really lends itself with the higher torque and power, for tippers and things like that. You would never say never, but diesel lends itself well to that.

For smaller models, we’ll have to see. We’re not like other manufacturers as we have that alternative in the ZE so we don’t have to rush something out.