FV: You’ve just taken over from Mark Lovett, who was a popular figure in the industry. Will you be making changes in Renault’s fleet sales strategy or will it be a case of ‘steady as she goes’?
A.C: I believe there is substantial opportunity to elevate the profile of Renault vans in the market place and I shall be looking for sustained growth in terms of sales through attacking new niche segments, expanding the range and sales of converted products and giving van sales a much higher profile within Renault UK and the dealer network.
We shall look to concentrate on business sales to small businesses and to corporate accounts with a restructured team with more sales staff selling vans to these types of customers. I want more dealers to sell vans as I believe it is a profitable opportunity for them and we must therefore give them the tools to do the job more effectively.
FV: Tell us a bit about recent launches, how those new models are being received in the industry and what’s coming up in the Renault launch calendar?
A.C: We launched new phases of Trafic and Master van in November 2006, both with Euro 4 compliant engines. Both products are doing very well in 2007 with sales up by 5% this year. In terms of new product for the future, we have the replacement Kangoo van in 2008.
FV: You are a whisker behind Mercedes-Benz in the sales charts, with sales rising 4.3%. Do you think you can overtake M-B and if so how are you going to do it?
A.C: We are not chasing any other manufacturer in terms of sales performance. We are, however, looking for profitable growth, giving good value for customers with good quality products.
We see a big opportunity in the converted LCV segment with a widening range of our factory converted products (which is a benefit to customers as they have the three-year Renault manufacturer warranty), and with an increasing number of our UK- based converters now having the Accord Produit technical accreditation which will give our customers added re-assurance that Renault has granted its technical ‘seal of approval’ for these conversions.
FV: Renault is Europe’s leading van manufacturer but only number six in the UK. How can you improve the British buyers’ perception of the Renault brand?
A.C: The image of Renault vans is strong and will continue to be enhanced by the commitment to product and service quality across the whole of the Renault range as outlined in the Renault Commitment 2009 Plan with the new Laguna that will arrive this autumn.
We are pulling away from short-term high cost tactical business and will concentrate on developing sales to ‘proper’ profitable business to small businesses and larger corporate clients, which will improve the image, residual values and our overall brand over the coming years.
FV: Many of your models are also sold by Vauxhall and Nissan. How can you make your versions stand out from the others and does this duplication give you problems?
A.C: Many customers are unaware that some products sold by Vauxhall and Nissan are actually Renault products with a different badge.
We believe that we offer a much more tailored, but wider product proposition, along with a higher level of specification over both Vauxhall and Nissan – this is what really differentiates us from them.
FV: Fleet Van has just reported that as from Jan 1, 2008, all manufacturers must undertake fuel economy testing of all models, empty and on a rolling road, to be verified by the VCA – but the law says that makers don’t have to publish these figures.
At present many buyers are frustrated that no mpg figures are available for vans. Will Renault be publishing mpg figures from January next and if not, why not? Also will you have any problems getting those figures together by next January, which isn’t far away?
A.C: We will publish mpg figures where legally required to do so, and indeed we do for such products where we have a standard to follow such as the Trafic 9 Seat. As for the deadline, yes, it is pretty tight.
FV: Many manufacturers are critical of these new mpg tests as they say testing vans empty and on a rolling road will produce meaningless figures. What’s your view on this and if you agree, what tests would you like to see?
A.C: While one might say the rolling road test figures are meaningless and not a real-life situation, they do at least give a clinical ‘like-for-like’ comparison of various van products. Not ideal, but better than nothing and better than a flawed comparison given so many different van usage situations that exist.
FV: Talking of fuel, tell us a bit about Renault’s moves towards biofuel. What is the firm doing and how important do you think biofuels will be in the future?
A.C: Renault considers biofuels to be one of the most effective and cost-efficient ways of curbing CO2 emissions in the medium term. Biofuels are derived from vegetal matter – a renewable, diversified energy source – and reduce dependency on fossil fuels for energy.
Renault’s Commitment 2009 programme includes a commitment to sell 1,000,000 vehicles that emit less than 140g/km of CO2 by 2008, and to sell vehicles capable of running on biofuels. In the UK, the one big constraining factor is the limited number of fuel supply locations for biofuels. However, one can expect the use of alternative fuels to increase over the coming years and their importance is bound to grow.
FV: Let’s turn to safety. Transit, Sprinter and Crafter all have ESP systems as standard but they are still optional on Master. ESP is lauded as the greatest safety aid since the arrival of the seatbelt. Why does Renault not fit ESP as standard and do you think there will come a day when it will be a legal requirement?
A.C: ESP is a good safety device, but with all technologies, customers must appreciate and value them – and of course be prepared to pay for them.
This is why ESP is an option today on Renault vans: only 4% of customers actually take up this option.
For us, this asks: do customers value it? We are equally aware that some competitors do include ESP as standard but have reflected this cost in the higher sales price. I can imagine that in due course ESP as standard may become a legal requirement.
FV: Still on safety, talk in the industry says that before long 3.5-tonne vans will be legally required to have tachographs and speed limiters. What are your views on such a law?
A.C: It does make sense to require all larger vans to have speed limiters as there is inherent danger driving at high speed with what are often overloaded vans.
Often the drivers do not know they are overloaded.
We have taken a cautious approach on this and have included tachographs and speed limiters on all Master products to be converted above 3.9t. In addition, we have participated in the SAFED (Safe And Fuel Efficient Driving) scheme with Master van in 2006.
This proved the benefit of sensible, cautious and thoughtful driving in terms of fuel efficiency for all types of journey.
FV: Some pundits believe that drivers should have to take a separate test before being allowed in a 3.5-tonner in a bid to curb ‘white van man’. How much of a threat do you think ‘white van man’ is and would you be in favour of a separate test?
A.C: While the separate test may become a legislative requirement in the future, as outlined above, I believe there are many other measures that can be introduced to improve driving standards.
A combination of education and product innovation would probably be more effective in the long term rather than a test which is often only effective until the test has been passed and then drivers will often revert to their natural instincts in terms of driving habits.
FV: Finally, from all of us, best of luck in your new job.