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Exclusive: Renault Australia reopens Alaskan case

Design matters: Styling is a key differentiator between the Renault Alaskan and Nissan Navara, while sourcing from the Barcelona plant could hand the French brand access to higher-level equipment, such as AEB.

Renault Australia wins ‘full support’ from global LCV chief in quest for Alaskan


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20 Mar 2018

RENAULT has reopened the case to bring the Alaskan one-tonne utility to Australia, and a meeting with the French car-maker’s global head of light-commercial vehicles in Melbourne last month has brought immediate results.

Renault Australia’s managing director Andrew Moore, who took the reins in October last year, told GoAuto that the company is still only in the early stages of the new business plan and that sticking points included the costs involved in sourcing Alaskan from Nissan’s plant in Barcelona, Spain.

However, Mr Moore revealed that the Alaskan case – which he prised back open about two months ago – had progressed quickly after he and members of his team met with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance’s LCV senior vice-president, Ashwani Gupta, when the global chief was in Australia late last month to meet with Nissan executives and attend the launch of the Series III Navara, upon which the Alaskan is based.

“He (Mr Gupta) was very positive and we’ve got his full support around the strategy we presented,” Mr Moore said.

“He’s got his team heavily involved and, basically, from that meeting, over the next week a lot of things happened.”

Among the issues on the table are allowing Renault Australia to bring in a carefully tailored model range for sale here – notably, highly specified pick-up variants that target lifestyle buyers rather than lower-spec cab-chassis versions and the like – and the potential of having the Alaskan built on the same production line in Thailand as Australian versions of the Navara.

The latter is dependent on sales volume and other markets – and would dramatically improve the case given the reduced shipping costs and the free-trade agreement in place between Australia and Thailand.

Even with sourcing from Barcelona, Mr Moore is hopeful that, “all going well”, the Alaskan could be on sale in Australia during 2019 – around mid-year at the earliest but possibly pushing out to later in the second half.

“What we’ve reopened the discussion with is targeting the more image-conscious, specification-conscious buyer in the dual-cab segment, and what can we deliver to satisfy those customers versus a standard dual-cab range of 20 variants, from the very cheapest to the most expensive,” he said.

“So there’s some factors (here) that mean we have to look at all the options and consider the strategies.”

Light-commercial vehicles last year accounted for 45 per cent of Renault’s total sales volume in Australia, and Mr Moore said that, upon joining the French brand, the prospect of adding a one-tonne utility to the stable – from a booming market segment – seemed to him “absolutely a no-brainer”.

“For me, I think (the Alaskan case) is positive, it’s definitely an opportunity. I agree, from an outsider’s perspective, it’s a no-brainer – a huge market, etc, etc,” he said.

“But when competing with competitors who are on a different playing field in terms of where they are sourcing their vehicles, you’ve got to make sure you have the right strategy. That’s what we’re working through at the moment.

“We’ve done everything from our end to say, ‘Here’s some ideas and strategies.’ We’re now working with the region, with the program team, to see what can be done.”

The Renault chief said Ford Australia had “nailed it” with stylish high-end Ranger variants and the accessories on offer with the Blue Oval’s Australian-developed pick-up – and “that’s the direction I’m looking at for Alaskan”.

“I don’t think the brand ‘Renault’ in the eyes of a tradie is necessarily going to command a significant premium,” he said.

However, Mr Moore said the premium-looking design of the Alaskan separated it from other competitors, and that adding value with equipment would be a strategy Renault Australia would look to employ.

He said the fact that European-market Navara-based vehicles built in Spain had a higher specification than those from Thailand – fitment of autonomous emergency braking (AEB), for example – could play in Renault Australia’s favour.

Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific is already emphasising that the soon-to-be-launched X-Class pick-up, which is also built in Barcelona on the same platform as Navara/Alaskan, will be the first in class to offer AEB as standard across the range.

“These are the sort of things we’re looking at to try and differentiate the car,” Mr Moore said. “We’re looking at a lot of options.”

Mr Moore said he had no intention of joining the cut-throat lower end of the dual-cab segment which sees the big-name brands – Toyota (with HiLux), Ford (with Ranger) and Mitsubishi (with Triton), plus various others – slug it out each month to realise huge sale volume that, in some cases, underpins their overall business.

“At this point, I’d say I don’t want my brand to be involved in dual-cab discount wars that are happening at the low end,” he said.

“There are dual cabs sold on price and workhorse, and there’s a lot of dual cabs sold on their stylishness and aspirational image.”

Asked whether he thought the business case could still work by sourcing from Barcelona, Mr Moore said: “I think it possibly can. I don’t know that for sure, because we’re still working through that feasibility study.

“The challenge is that a vehicle from Thailand has no import duty and has a shorter lead time.”

Renault’s launch of the Alaskan in the UK market has also been delayed, but first deliveries are expected soon.

The Alaskan will be offered with the 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine used in Navara, and its underpinnings will include the more sophisticated five-link coil-spring rear suspension seen on high-end dual-cab versions of the Nissan ute.

The Navara’s suspension has just been updated – for the second time since the new-generation D23 series launched in 2015 – to better cope with Australian conditions, however this applies only to models built in Thailand at this stage.

Mr Gupta and his team confirmed at the Navara launch that the changes would be incorporated into other factories where deemed appropriate, with Argentina likely to be next.

There is no word yet on Barcelona, which could become a sticking point for Renault Australia as its Alaskan case progresses.

The X-Class also relies on many of the same components – including the basic architecture, four-cylinder diesel engine and rear suspension hardware – but has incorporated its own engineering modifications, and various other changes, as required to better reflect Mercedes’ brand values.

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