PARIS - Renault and General Motors Europe plan to build their new medium-sized light commercial vans in mainland Europe as well as the UK.
Renault's new Trafic was developed as part of a joint venture with GM. The GM version is called Vivaro, and will be badged as an Opel/Vauxhall.
The Trafic/Vivaro will be built at GM's IBC plant in Luton, England. IBC currently makes the Frontera sport-utility. Frontera production will be transferred to GM's plant in Ellesmere Port, England, later this year to create space for the Trafic/Vivaro.
The annual market for medium-sized light commercial vans in Europe has remained static at about 500,000 units for the past four years.
'Now we expect that figure to grow,' said Jean-Michel Jalinier, Renault Trafic project manager. 'Economies across Europe are expanding, and there will be more use of parcel delivery backed by e-commerce in the coming years.
'We are targeting annual production of 150,000 units for the new vans by 2004,' said Jalinier. 'That is 80,000 units for Renault, 50,000 for GM and possibly 20,000 for Nissan if we cross-badge. That decision is currently under evaluation,' he said.
Luton has an annual capacity of 86,000 units.
'Because capacity at Luton is limited, we will need a second site in the Euro zone,' said Jalinier. 'But it won't be a greenfield site. That means that we are currently evaluating what's possible between GM, Renault and Nissan [in Barcelona]. We'll decide by the end of the year.'
The Trafic reached its highest production levels in the late 1980s. Production peaked at 64,000 units in 1989.
But Trafic sales in Europe have been in long-term decline. In 1990, Renault sold 46,600 Trafics. That fell to 13,600 in 1998 and 10,000 last year.
The Trafic's main competitors are the Volkswagen Transporter, Ford Transit and Mercedes-Benz Vito - the top three European sellers.
Other rivals are the PSA/Fiat joint venture vans - the Peugeot Expert, Citroen Dispatch and Fiat Scudo.
'We want to join the top three,' said Jalinier.
When Renault decided to replace the original, 20-year-old Trafic, it realized it lacked the critical manufacturing size to develop an all-new vehicle.
So Renault approached GM to share the development and manufacturing costs of developing a new medium-sized van. Renault was responsible for design and engineering, while GM agreed to provide the IBC plant for manufacturing purposes. The E700 million joint venture was announced in late 1996.
The new Trafic completes Renault's renewal of its light-commercial van range. The process started in November 1997 with the introduction of the Kangoo small van and the face-lift of the Master heavy van. GM sells the Master as the Movano in Europe.
When Trafic production starts at IBC it will become the first Renault since the Dauphine to be built in the UK. The Dauphine was made in Acton, west London, until 1961.