Saturday 24 August 2019

Rendezvous with Renault

Steve Banner caught up with the truck manufacturer to learn about its roadmap for the future

Renault Trucks is determined to become a lot more than an also-ran in the UK market. Better aftersales support is one of the keys to its future success, it believes, and it is deploying some innovative workshop technology in order to achieve it.

It is introducing an Optiview RealWear HMT-1 augmented reality headset for technicians. Used in conjunction with LibreStream Onsight Connect software, it allows them to connect hands-free with Renault’s technical support experts many miles away to obtain real-time assistance while they are working on vehicles.

It gives them the ability to access a virtual seven-inch tablet that sits just below their line of sight. The user interface is voice-controlled, and a technician can employ the headset in other ways – to consult service manuals, for example.

In future it may be used to help examine parts that are subject to warranty claims. This should mean that warranty payments are made more quickly.

“It marks a new era where wearable augmented reality and voice command technology becomes the norm in our workshops and out in the field,” says Renault Trucks service market and retail development director, Derek Leech.

“The headset is the ideal wearable choice for technicians, giving the support of the technical team right when they need it to speed up diagnosis and repair.

“This technology will improve the efficiency of our dealer network and our customer service, resolving issues more swiftly.”

The support hauliers require does not come cheap, and the manufacturer and its dealers will soon be writing some large cheques.

“Around £30m will be invested in the network over the next five years by Renault and its private capital dealers,” says Leech.

“The network is aiming to recruit 100 more staff over the next few years, we’ve already got 120 apprentices and we’ve introducing a programme to transform car and van mechanics into truck mechanics.” adds Renault UK managing director, Carlos Rodrigues.

The scheme should hopefully go some way towards addressing the national shortage of truck technicians that is bedevilling the whole industry.

A predictive maintenance package is being rolled out across 15 countries in an attempt to minimise downtime.

“It will be available in the UK in 2020,” he says.

Parts provision is not being neglected.

“We’re reducing the prices of fast-moving parts for Renaults that are more than five years old by up to 50 per cent,” says Leech.

Volvo Group owned Renault Trucks aims to increase its UK sales and market share significantly between now and 2022, says Rodrigues.

“We’ve been cruising at around five per cent and we’re not happy with that,” he observes. “We’ve got the products, the quality has improved a lot and we deserve to do better.”

“The UK is very important to us so far as our plan for growth is concerned and we deserve a far better volume position,” adds Renault Trucks Europe senior vice-president, Jean-Claude Bailly.

Commercial trucks and services director, James Charnock, is confident that Renault Trucks is capable of doing a lot better in Britain than it does at present. Things are improving already, he insists.

“We’re seeing a lot of growth with the Range C tipper and the Range T High tractor unit is proving to be highly successful,” he says.

Production of right-hand-drive models is being increased as a consequence.

“We’re delighted by the response to the T High since its UK launch in June 2017,” he continues.

“We have a very strong order book filled to the end of the year so this increase in production capacity will enable us to offer more T Highs to more customers in a shorter time.”

Aware that many customers are desperate to obtain trucks as quickly as they can, James and his colleagues have over 50 Range C and D bodied chassis in the pipeline, available for prompt delivery under the Ready for Business banner. The line-up includes everything from tipper grabs to road sweepers.

Nor is the second-hand sector being ignored, says used truck director, Peter Tye. The warranty covering used Range Ts has been enhanced, a network of nine specialist used centres based at existing dealerships is being set up, and right-hand-drive products from the company’s so-called used trucks factory in France are on sale in the UK.

They include refurbished and reequipped 460hp Range Ts marketed under the X-Road banner, with steel bumper bars, protective grilles for their headlamps and higher ground clearance available so they can run on and off construction sites more easily.

“We’re selling X-Road with free tipper gear at present,” Tye says

Like all truck manufacturers, Renault has some demanding CO2 targets to meet.

“We’re obliged to get CO2 down by 15 per cent by 2025 and by 30 per cent by 2030 compared with today’s level,” says Bailly. “That’s the journey we’re on, we’ve got to get to those targets and we know how we’re going to do it.”

It will not result in Renault abandoning diesel engines however, he stresses.

“We strongly believe that diesel is and will remain the best solution for long-distance transport, not just for the next three to five years but for more than that,” he observes.

Diesel trucks will become more fuel-efficient though, he believes. Renault’s Optifuel Lab 3 research tractor unit and trailer is achieving a 13 per cent saving by employing everything from low-rolling-resistance tyres to waste heat recovery.

While diesel may be the best solution for trunking work, electric commercial vehicles look set to dominate local distribution, Renault believes.

“They’re a good solution for the cities,” Bailly comments.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary in the UK this year, Renault Trucks is busy developing a battery-powered line-up grossing at from 3.1 to 26 tonnes, he says. “In France we delivered the first Range D Wide Z.E electric to Lyon city council in June,” he adds.

On this side of the Channel, a growing number of customers are asking about the Range D and D Wide Z.Es says Rodrigues, with the first deliveries scheduled for early next year.

“Electromobility is the obvious response to issues surrounding urban air quality and noise,” he observes.

Renault Trucks is also marketing the battery-powered Master Z.E and has just supplied its first one.

A wheelchair-accessible nine-seater minibus conversion based on Master Z.E and carried out by Minibus Options has joined Kent County Council. It is being operated by charity Compaid, which offers transport services to vulnerable people and people with disabilities.

A 57kW electric motor is fitted powered by a 33kWh lithium-ion battery. The range between recharges is approximately 100 miles, says the converter.

Wheelchair access is provided by a fold-down ramp mounted just inside the rear doors, and a floor-mounted winch powered by its own rechargeable battery is fitted to make it easier to pull wheelchairs and their occupants aboard.

Truck manufacturers have to spend heavily on product research and development (R&D)  in order to succeed. So Renault is investing €33m euros (over £29m) in a new 11,300m technology centre in Lyon.

Employing 1,000 people, it is scheduled to open in two years’ time. “It will be the second biggest R&D site in the Volvo Group,” says Bailly.

Areas that truck manufacturers, R&D departments are addressing include driverless trucks. Don’t expect them to appear on British motorways any time soon though, says Rodrigues.

“That will take time,” he smiles.

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