##renara.jpg --Right##DRAMATIC styling is to be a key feature of the crucial new medium panel van challenger from Vauxhall and Renault. Due on sale next year after introductions at several international motor shows in the coming months, the newly christened Vivaro and Renault New Trafic ranges use a bigger glass area, a sweeping bonnet line and a massive front bumper to make a strong visual impact against rivals from Ford and Mercedes-Benz.
But the startling looks of the joint venture 1.0-1.2 tonne payload vehicle will be backed up with class-beating safety features and unprecedented driver comfort, it was claimed this week.
'There's some tough opposition out there, but we're convinced this van puts us in pole position to consolidate the gains we are making in other LCV sectors. This product looks the business and is a winner,' Vauxhall van product manager Phil Harwood told Fleet News.
With a 2.0-litre LPG version listed among a choice of five different power units, including three common rail 1.9-litre Renault diesel units with 80bhp, 100bhp and 135bhp power options, the new van is Vauxhall's long-awaited response to the front-drive Ford Transit, Mercedes-Benz Vito and Volkswagen Transporter and is the result of unprecedented customer research.
'We have worked hard to make sure this product delivers the goods in terms of meeting critical parameters concerning performance, convenience and loading abilities while also coming up with the quality, reliability and durability that operators expect.
'We've asked a lot of questions, had a lot of feedback from potential users and are confident that the outcome has produced a vehicle that will make its presence felt in what has become the commercial market's keenest sector,' said Harwood.
The revitalised General Motors IBC plant at Luton will operate around the clock when production of the van starts at the beginning of next year. After a £130 million upgrade and refit, the former Frontera factory alongside the Vectra production centre will work on a three-shift basis to meet expected demand from domestic and European operators.
Annual output of the front-drive van is due to reach the 80,000 mark and it will also be built as an Opel. 'It could eventually appear as a Nissan - although we're not aware of any discussions about this, we're sure that Renault and Nissan are looking at the potential of this new model as a result of their new relationship,' said a company official.
Vauxhall van brand manager Chris Kearney said it was significant that the market research highlighted the need for higher comfort and convenience levels: 'Obviously, users are still concerned about practical issues like capacity and ease of loading, but things that have an impact on life at the wheel are becoming increasingly important.
'Our surveys suggest that a lot of people driving vans in this category have driven company cars in their previous jobs - and these users expect rather more than commercial vehicles have offered in the past by way of creature comforts,' he said.
'We think people who spend long hours on the road for a living have every right to want an environment that is as comfortable as possible.
'It's high time the panel van was brought out of the dark ages and became more like a car, and in this respect, the new model is a perfect fit with the Astravan, which is winning a lot of praise for its styling and equipment levels.'
As a result of the findings, Vauxhall claims to have developed a suspension system that provides car-like handling and ride characteristics under any load condition and says the steering is more precise and responsive. Road noise is also said to be substantially less than that produced by rival vehicles.
Harwood added: 'We have developed a braking system that gives the shortest stopping distances in the class and experts from Thatcham have helped us bring some very strong security features to this van.
'But the ingredient of this design that sets it apart from the rest is style - it has the radical appearance that will attract many prospective buyers. We believe it to be unique and likely to be seen by many as an aid to promoting their business. It also provides the driver with a pleasant working environment. Having the gear lever mounted in the dash panel makes it easy to walk through the cab, there are four big air vents, a big glove box and ample provision for shelves and cup-holders.
'However, van buyers are rational people and look for more than just a stylish appearance. The clever thing about this new design is that even though it has sweeping lines at the front and oozes quality, it has a boxy shape and is almost slab-sided - features which are of great benefit when it comes to loading, stacking and the fitting of racking systems.'