PARIS -- Renault is refreshing its light-commercial vehicle range, hoping to build on its leadership in the high-margin van segment in Europe.
In addition to showing a concept for the next-generation Kangoo car-derived van, due in 2020, Renault displayed facelifted versions of the Trafic small van and Master medium van, as well as the EZ-Flex urban delivery concept.
The automaker is counting on light-commercial vehicles to help the group achieve ambitious sales and profit targets by 2022, the endpoint of the company's Drive the Future midterm plan. Sales are projected to increase by 40 percent, although much of that figure has already been reached with the integration last year of sales volume from Renault's new Chinese joint venture with Jinbei Brilliance.
Including Jinbei sales, Renault Group global light-commercial vehicle volumes were up by 34 percent in 2018 to about 620,000, said Denis Le Vot, the new head of light-commercial vehicles for the Renault Nissan Mitsubishi alliance. Le Vot started in his new post on April 1 after 14 months as Nissan's North America chairman.
Renault says it is the best-selling van brand in Europe, with a 14.6 percent market share in 2018; it is the second-best-selling LCV brand after Ford, which leads the pickup segment with the Ranger, according to figures from JATO Dynamics.//CQ -- Renault trailed Ford by 40,000 sales, but Ford sold over 50,000 Rangers while Renault sells virtually no pickups//.
"It was a huge year," Thierry Plantegenest, Renault's light-commercial vehicle sales and marketing director, said this week //APRIL 23// at an event at Renault's technical center outside Paris. Revenues were 10 billion euros in 2018, compared with 6.8 billion euros in 2013; Renault does not divulge profit margins for its vehicles, but analysts have said that margins on vans can be in the range of 8 percent to 13 percent, comparable to crossovers or SUVs.
However, Plantegenest said 2019 could be difficult, with "many headwinds" that included unfavorable foreign exchange rates in Argentina, Britain and Turkey, and potential difficulties related to the E.U.'s new Worldwide harmonized Light vehicle Test procedure, or WLTP, which applies to all light commercial vehicles as of Sept. 1. The WLTP was a drag on passenger car sales in 2018, with automakers pulling uncertified models from the market after Sept. 1.
In the first quarter of 2019, group global van sales rose 2.7 percent, helping to offset a 7.2 percent drop in passenger car volumes, Renault said Friday. Renault brand van sales rose 0.7 percent globally, while passenger car sales fell by 13 percent.
Renault has several levers to boost production and sales of light-commercial vehicles. The new Kangoo will be built at its plant in Maubeuge, France, where it will be joined by the Nissan NV250 sister model. A Mitsubishi branded Trafic van will be built at Sandouville, France. (However, Renault officials would not say whether the Mercedes Citan version of the Kangoo would be part of the new lineup.)
In China, seven LCVs will be launched by 2022, including a Renault-branded electric van. By 2022, all Renault vans will have electric versions, with an electric Trafic joining the Kangoo and Master already on the market. Le Vot said he expected that 10 percent to 15 percent of next-generation Kangoo sales would be electric.
Renault's largest van, the Master, has been given a "more imposing" front end with a wraparound light bar that echoes American trucks, said Laurens van den Acker, Renault Group director of corporate design. The Master also has a higher hood -- a consequence of a new 2.3- liter diesel engine to meet WLTP certification, required of all light-commercial vehicles by Sept. 1 this year. Other features of the facelift include more interior storage and a side-wind stability feature that Renault says can automatically correct up to 50 percent of lateral movement in extreme wind conditions.
The Master's smaller sibling, the Trafic, gets the same front-end treatment, and more-efficient 2.0-liter diesel engines. A SpaceClass passenger version hopes to tap into the growing market for airport and hotel shuttles, using rear seats and consoles designed by Mercedes for its Vito passenger vans.
Renault also showed a vision of the future of "last mile" delivery with the EZ-Flex concept, a small electric and autonomous urban van with a range of 150 km (93 miles). Renault will lend about a dozen of the vehicles to municipalities and logistics and delivery companies in a two-year experiment designed to gather data about usage patterns.
"The future growth in home deliveries, while access to city centers is restricted (because of diesel bans), will change the market," Le Vot said.