Alaskan ute’s an ice­breaker

Herald Sun - Motoring - - NEWS - MAL­COLM FLYNN

RE­NAULT is aim­ing to break the ice with its com­ing ri­val for the Toy­ota HiLux, the Alaskan ute — and the brand’s lo­cal arm is chomp­ing at the bit to get it into Aus­tralian show­rooms.

Re­veal­ing a near pro­duc­tion-ready Alaskan con­cept in ad­vance of the Frank­furt mo­tor show, the French com­pany says the show­room ver­sion will spear­head its push to be­come a big­ger player in com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles around the world.

Europe’s top-selling light com­mer­cial brand for the past 17 years is keen to in­creas­ing its share of the bur­geon­ing ute seg­ment.

Re­nault is acutely aware of its po­ten­tial in ute-lov­ing Aus­tralia. Im­ports have yet to get the green light but lo­cal chief Justin Ho­ce­var de­scribes the new truck as “an ab­so­lute must-have”.

“The pro­duc­tion Alaskan would rep­re­sent a seis­mic shift for us, and re­in­force our po­si­tion as a gen­er­al­ist brand, with ve­hi­cles across most ma­jor pas­sen­ger and light com­mer­cial seg­ments,” he says.

There is po­ten­tial for the ute to be Re­nault’s next top-seller in Aus­tralia. The Clio hatch takes the hon­ours with 1861 sales to the end of Au­gust — in the ute seg­ment, the lead­ing HiLux ex­ceeds this fig­ure each month.

The lo­cal arm has ap­pointed of sev­eral com­mer­cial­spe­cial­ist Re­nault Pro+ deal­ers around the coun­try.

A prod­uct of the Re­naultNis­san Al­liance, the Alaskan is heav­ily based on the re­cent NP300 Nissan Navara ute, with the Re­nault ver­sion distin­guished by unique pan­els and lights.

At Re­nault’s Tech­no­cen­tre near Paris, light com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle de­sign boss Louis Mo­rasse con­firms that the Alaskan’s styling is 95 per cent pro­duc­tion-ready.

Over­sized 21-inch wheels, stylised head and tail-lights and other de­tails are in­tended to boost its show cred in Frank­furt.

Re­nault says the pro­duc­tion ver­sion of the Alaskan will be built along­side Nis­sans in fac­to­ries around the world.

Re­flect­ing the chang­ing ute buyer pro­file, Re­nault has teamed with Swedish cam­era brand Has­sel­blad to em­pha­sise the Alaskan’s suit­abil­ity for busi­ness, leisure and ev­ery­day use.

The con­cept has Has­sel­blad­flavoured stor­age in the tray and even cam­eras in the doormir­ror hous­ing “to per­mit the film­ing of pass­ing land­scapes”. This last de­tail hints that the pro­duc­tion model could score 360-de­gree park­ing cam­eras, lack­ing in the Navara but avail­able on most Nissan pas­sen­ger cars.

Re­nault prom­ises a broad ar­ray of body types and pow­er­trains, sug­gest­ing ver­sions of the Navara’s sin­gle, ex­tra and dual cab bod­ies. It says show­room mod­els will match the con­cept’s di­men­sions but the cen­tral tailpipe will make way for a more tow­bar­friendly off­set item.

Pow­er­ing the con­cept is the 2.3-litre twin-turbo diesel from high-spec ver­sions of the Navara, which claims classtop­ping fuel econ­omy and low emis­sions.

Pro­duc­tion ver­sions are due in the first half of next year.

The Navara is also set to spawn a Mercedes-Benz ute. A shared en­gi­neer­ing deal al­ready has de­liv­ered the Re­nault Kan­goo-based Mercedes Ci­tan, Mercedes-en­gined In­fini­tis and sev­eral other Re­nault and Nissan pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles.

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