Posh pickup format is fine for NZ

New Zealand would be a good environment for Renault’s first global one-tonne traydeck, the local distributor asserts.


WHEREAS the Nissan it is spawned from is designed foremost for work, Renault’s first one-tonne utility will be pitched into New Zealand primarily as a weekend plaything.

That’s the thinking expressed by high-ups with Renault New Zealand during discussion with Motoring Network about the new model, spun from the Nissan Navara NP300 that is now settling into New Zealand market sale.

Already expressed in concept form as the Alaskan/ZU-60, the Renault version is not set to enter production until 2016 and might not reach New Zealand until mid to late 2017 – conceivably, then, six months to a year after another key product, the new Megane - but already the brand’s Auckland-domiciled distributor is considering how best to market it.

A Renault ute is considered internationally as a addition to the commercial Kangoo, Trafic and Master van ranges that are starting to make inroads here and it will be provided in a range of traydeck body types and powertrains.

For now, however, NZ distributor thinking is fixed on the potential for the production equivalent of the top line Alaskan concept, a five-seat doublecab presented in especially glam format, with 21-inch alloy wheels, LED tail-lights and a centrally mounted aluminium exhaust pipe (not practical for rel-life use, as it would impede the towbar).

Renault has suggested that the Alaskan is 95 percent representative of an eventual flagship edition.

Top specification doublecab diesel enjoy massive popularity as SUV substitutes at the recreational end of the market and Renault NZ can clearly see a production version of the Alaskan being an easy competitor for Toyota HiLux SR5, Ford Ranger Wildtrak and, of course, the Navara ST-X, all of which occupy the high $60,000 to early $70k zone.

Head office comment of it being a “high-end pick-up for business and leisure use, as well as everyday motoring” has been echoed by Renault NZ boss Tom Griffiths, who says the flagship is “really is one of those urban pickups.”

Although Renault head office has yet to fully sign off on building a ute, and had at time of writing still not determined on it being in right-hand-drive, the demand from around the world is probably strong enough to compel it to act, Griffiths suggests.

“In New Zealand especially, with the growing pickup market and more people getting out of conventional passenger sedans and more into crossovers, sports utilities and pickups .. yeah, it would be a natural fit here.

“Kiwis love getting away for the weekend. That vehicle would fit perfectly into that sort of use.”

Another spokesman added that Paris HQ is ramping up to say more about the project soon.

“We will know a lot more about it in the first quarter of the 2016. But we’re excited – and we know it will be popular. The moment pictures of the concept went on line the comments were pouring in.”

It seems highly likely the Renault version will be powered by the same Renault-Nissan Alliance 2.3-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel engine that is the main powerplant for the Navara and also supplies to Renault’s own Master van. In Navara, the engine produces up to 140kW of power and 463Nm of torque, while Master has up to 120kW and 360Nm.

How much parity there will be with NP300 remains unclear, but they are certainly close cousins: Compared with Navara, the Alaskan gets new panels forward of the A pillars, as well as a different treatment across the back.

Although Renault has no history of making utes, it is clearly intent on catching up. Alaskan is the second ute to be unveiled by Renault this year, following the June launch of the South American-made small Duster Oroch, based on a Dascia model.

There’s talk initial right-hand-drive production of Alaskan could restrict to Spain, but it might in time transfer to the factory in Thailand that provides NP300 to New Zealand.

It will also potentially face off against another Euro relation as, ultimately, a Mercedes-Benz ute – rumoured to be called GLT – will also be spun off the same Navara base under the Daimler-Renault model and technology sharing agreement.