Not launching the Renault Trafic van with the option of an automatic gearbox might in hindsight have been a mistake, admits the company’s executive vice president Jerome Stoll this week.
Nevertheless, don’t expect a rapid about-face, with the company’s head of light commercials (LCV) Ashwani Gupta saying the company had “no visibility’ on the project materialising any time soon.
The new Renault Trafic, launched in Australia a few months ago, has received positive feedback. But unlike the big-selling old model, the new one is manual-only, something that hurts in our market where most medium van sales (around 60 per cent) are of autos.
The problem? Renault LCV is still focused on Europe, and behind that a number of ‘emerging markets’, though years of double-digit growth from our region is changing the tide. And both Europe and emerging markets are manual-dominated.
Speaking with media including CarAdvice this week, Stoll — who is essentially Renault’s global second-in-command — was pleasantly honest and even a little abashed when questioned on the matter, acknowledging complaints from regions such as Renault Australia on the matter.
“I know, I know, it’s not due yet, but I’m struggling to get it [an auto],” he said. “It’s missing, I have got the complaint already, not telling from where,” he said, with some humour, while looking in the direction of Renault Australia managing director Justin Hocevar.
“But I know… It was not at the initial stage, it was not requested by our [major markets]. Maybe some of the countries requested, but their volume too low,” he said.
“But frankly I think we have to reconsider as the (auto) market is becoming more and more everywhere, also in Europe, the auto gearbox is becoming more and more a part of the life of everybody.
“We have to reconsider and I have plenty of discussion with the product guys, not to re-do such kind of, you may consider mistakes, but to try to anticipate and to have it from the beginning.”
The top of the ‘product guys’ is Renault LCV boss Ashwani Gupta, who acknowledged the issue.
“I should get [Renault Asia-Pacific chairman] Gilles Normand, who is after me every other morning to get an auto transmission!” he said.
“We know. An automatic is a great opportunity not only in Australia but many markets, I would like to give some insights to you. For sure there is no tech today in LCV which we cannot make. I don’t want to be arrogant but we know what tech is needed in LCV and we have all the tools.”
Renault has been Europe’s top-selling LCV brand for 17 years.
But Gupta said getting enough global demand to meet economies of scale targets was a problem, with the development costs hard to counteract with projected volume. There’s no Renault Group auto that could be transplanted to the Trafic’s 2.3-litre diesel with ease, he suggested.
“Everything requires development you know, it’s not Lego,” he said. Not even a dreaded ‘robotised manual’ appears available.
This year is is fifth behind the Volkswagen Transporter and (also manual-only) Ford Transit as well, and sales are down 32.6 per cent — though some of this is down to the inevitable drop when a model generation is changed over.