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Renault has reopened the case to release its Alaskan one-tonne ute Down Under, garnering “full support” from the French carmaker's global head of light-commercial vehicles, Ashwani Gupta.
Renault Australia's managing director Andrew Moore revealed that the Alaskan case progressed quickly after he and his team met with Mr Gupta at the Aussie launch of the Series III Navara late last month.
“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.”
The primary issues that Renault Australia will have to navigate include curating a carefully tailored model range for Australia – focusing on the premium end of the pick-up segment, and the potential of having the Alaskan utility built on the same Thai production line as the Australian versions of the Navara, upon which the car is based.
The latter point would dramatically improve the Alaskan case given the reduced shipping costs and the free-trade agreement between Australia and Thailand.
Even if it was sourced from Nissan's Barcelona plant, Mr Moore is hopeful that the Alaskan could be on sale in Australia as early as mid-2019.
“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.”
With light-commercial vehicles accounting for 45 per cent of Renault's total sales in Australia, Mr Moore says that it is “absoultely a no-brainer” to add a one-tonne utility to the local line-up.
“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.”
Mr Moore believes the that the premium-looking design of the Alaskan could separate it from its competitors, and adding extra tech like autonomous emergency braking (AEB) could play in Renault Australia's favour.
“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.”
The Renault Alaskan would be aimed at the premium end of the pick-up segment, rather than the budget-conscious dual-cab market occupied by models such as the Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger and Mitsubishi Triton.
“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.
When Mr Moore was 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.”