Lion on the loose

Lion on the loose

When European transport operators decide to invest in a new light commercial vehicle, they automatically consider a Peugeot. That’s a situation the company wants to replicate here in South Africa. But does Peugeot have the products and service offerings to entice local operators? CHARLEEN CLARKE reports…

I don’t do drugs; I do Wikipedia. Just like some people have to stick weird stuff into their arms and their orifices, I am a Wiki addict. Hardly a day goes by without my Wiki fix.

Thus, when I decided to probe Peugeot’s commercial vehicles, Wikipedia was my first port of call. But, for once, I didn’t enjoy my customary high as a result.

That’s because there isn’t a commercial vehicle in sight. All the company’s cars are mentioned. Even rally cars and Formula One vehicles. But not a single commercial vehicle. Nothing. Nada. Niks.

It’s quite odd, really. After all, PSA Peugeot Citroën is the market leader in the European light commercial vehicle market (which, incidentally, fell 35.7% in the first six months of this year). In fact, over that same period the company actually increased its market share to 22.1%, climbing from a 19.3% share in first half of 2008.

Therefore, it seems strange that the Peugeot light commercial vehicle range isn’t up in lights. Maybe I should have searched under PSA Peugeot Citroën; that’s a moot point. What isn’t debatable, however, is the reason for the company’s success in Europe: this is all thanks to its product range.

The nice thing about the Peugeot range is that it’s fresh and young. As Jean Francois Bacos, Peugeot Motors South Africa’s managing director, points out, the company has “the most recently introduced range of commercial vehicles in Europe”. “None of our vehicles are very old and that’s unusual. Commercial vehicles generally have a long lifespan. But the oldest van in our range, the Boxer, is only three years old. So it is a very competitive range,” he points out. And the good news for local operators is that this innovative range is now available in this country.

The baby of Peugeot’s commercial vehicle range is the Partner, which was launched locally just over a year ago. This vehicle is a true international success story, with nearly 1.5 million of these little vans being sold since 1996.

Lion on the looseThe Partner is available with either a 1.6-l HDi or a 1.6-l petrol powerplant. The 1.6-l multivalve, turbocharged diesel engine produces 66 kW and 215 Nm and uses just 5.8 litres per 100 km in mixed driving according to EU standards. The petrol engine, rated at 80 kW and 147 Nm, consumes around 8.4 litres per 100 km in mixed driving.

This van gobbles up a surprisingly large amount of luggage. In fact, it’s capable of carrying a 3.3-m3 volume and a payload of 850 kg. Significantly, the width between wheel arches is sufficient to accommodate a standard Euro pallet, which measures 1.2 by 0.8 metres. With a wheelbase of 2 728 mm, the Partner can comfortably swallow two of these.

One of the new Partner’s most impressive features is its Multi-Flex bench seat, which had a certain journalist lusting over the vehicle at a recent media gathering. The outer seat folds completely flat in seconds, which means that you can transport ultra-long items (of up to three metres in length). Not impressed yet? Well, then discover this: the backrest of the centre seat can also be folded forward to act as a handy work surface. I also particularly like the drawer under the driver’s seat. The Partner really is a great little office.

Dual airbags and ABS mean the Partner gets a thumbs-up in the safety department. Disc brakes are fitted all round and electronic brake assist ensures maximum stability irrespective of the load or the road conditions. Comfort and convenience features include electric power steering, height and reach adjustable steering column, power windows, cupholders, central locking and cloth trim.

The new kid on the Peugeot block is the rather sweetly named Tepee, a stylish, yet practical, eight-seater bus, which has arrived just in time for the World Cup. It’s obviously absolutely ideal for use within the hospitality industry, but it’s also a useful and safe family vehicle.

Sharing the same chassis as the Expert van range, the Tepee is far more car like – and it can be quickly and easily configured to carry between two and eight occupants.

The Tepee is powered by a direct injection, common-rail 2.0-l HDi engine, which delivers 88 kW at 4 000 r/min and 300 Nm at just 2 000 r/min. It is mated to a ML6C six-speed box. Fuel consumption – at just 7.5 litres per 100 km in the combined cycle and 6.5 litres per 100 km on the open road – is rather impressive.

On the subject of the mechanical hardware, the Tepee combines MacPherson struts with a coil-sprung torsion beam axle at the rear.

The interior looks elegant and comfortable. For instance, the driver’s seat is height-adjustable and has lumbar support. The steering column adjusts in vertical and horizontal planes. All doors lock automatically once underway and cruise control is a standard feature.

But it’s not only the driver who will appreciate the new Tepee: passengers certainly aren’t treated like cargo. For instance, the front passenger has an individual seat, which (like the driver’s) has a fold-down armrest. Passengers are also able to dictate their own heating and cooling requirements thanks to separate air conditioning controls (six separate vents ensure an even distribution), while there are sliding windows for those in the second row, and hinged rear quarter lights for those even further back.  Access to the second and third rows is via a sliding door on each side of the vehicle, with a tilt/fold mechanism for the 60:40 split, ensuring easy access to the third row from either side.

People normally travel with luggage, and the Tepee doesn’t disappoint in this department, offering 761 litres of storage space when loaded to window level 1 195 litres when those suitcases are packed up to the roof.

Given the fact that the Tepee is used to transport precious (human) cargo, safety features are plentiful. For example, the engine compartment has been designed with upper and lower impact absorption structures that spread the energy – irrespective of the type of accident the vehicle is involved in – and prevent the powertrain from intruding into the front of the passenger compartment. Then there are retention pins fitted into the front doors to help keep them located in the door aperture, which along with the reinforcing bars in the doors themselves results in enhanced side impact protection. At the rear, an aluminium impact beam with deformable crash boxes is fitted to control energy absorption in the length of the luggage compartment, once again leaving the passenger compartment undamaged.

Moving one step up in the payload stakes is the Expert, which can transport a payload of 1 200 kg, or 5 m3, in its luggage compartment which is 2.25 m long, 1.45 m high and 1.6 m wide. The nice thing is that it’s easy to access that luggage compartment, thanks to the sliding doors on both sides of the vehicle. A loading sill height of just 562 mm, wide-opening sliding doors on both sides and sideLion on the loose-hinged rear doors that open through 180 degrees also contribute to easy loading.

According to Clara Metivier Beukes, GM: marketing at Peugeot Motors South Africa, the Expert won the International Van of the Year award last year. “This van provides a professional image for businesses, and it’s incredibly spacious inside,” she notes.

Drivers, who often spend the entire day on the road, will no doubt appreciate this spaciousness. We reckon they will also give the thumbs up to the height and reach adjustable steering column, gearlever which sprouts from the centre console (and is therefore just a hand-span from the rim of the steering wheel), and the large windscreen with a glass area of 1.68 m2, which provides good all-round vision.

The Expert is powered by a 2.0-l, 88 kW/300 Nm HDi turbodiesel, which sips 7.2 l/100 km of diesel in the European Union combined cycle.

Do you only have a Code 8 licence? That’s no problem with the entry-level Boxer (which has a 10 m3 volume and a payload of 1 400 kg); a Code 8 is all that’s required.

Two HDi turbodiesel engine capacities – 2.2 and 3.0 l – are available; the smaller rated at 88 kW/320 Nm while the larger one has an impressive 116 kW and 400 Nm. Two wheelbase choices and high and low roof heights are also up for grabs.

Lion on the looseAll Boxers have a height-adjustable steering column and a four-way adjustable driver’s seat. Like the other vans in the range, this is a mobile office – features that we particularly like in this regard include the removable clipboard, an A4 storage compartment, mobile phone holder and 12 Volt power point.

While these features are all nice to have, the Boxer wouldn’t be very impressive sans a good loading capacity. However, with its
1 870 mm-wide load area, double rear doors that open to a width of 1 562 mm and loading sill just 535 mm high, operators need have no worries in this department.

According to Metivier Beukes, the Boxer can be converted into a 19-seater people carrier. Two chassis cabs are also available. The largest model in the Boxer range can swallow a 15 m3 load and it boasts a payload capacity of 1 900 kg.

Now these products are all very well. But they are nothing if not backed by capable dealers and outstanding after-sales support. Bacos is very confident in this area: “We have dramatically increased the appeal of our light commercial vehicle range by equipping and up-skilling four dealerships to cope specifically with the needs of the business user and fleet operators,” he reports.

Dubbed Light Commercial Vehicle Centres, these outlets, as well as continuing to sell passenger vehicles, will direct additional focus towards the Partner, Expert and Boxer lines. Situated at key points around the country (East London, Tyger Valley, Pinetown, Woodmead and Isando) these outlets will be staffed with specially trained sales and service personnel and will also be equipped with the necessary infrastructure to maintain and support commercial vehicles.

However, all Peugeot commercial vehicles can be sold by any of the 26 Peugeot franchises across Southern Africa. “We have accelerated technical training at these outlets and showroom and workshop staff have been given the necessary skills, with the key objective being to ensure minimal downtime for the end user in the event of the vehicle needing servicing or repairs,” says Bacos.

“Each dealership is obliged to meet high standards in terms of training, and commercial vehicle experts have worked with sales staff to ensure they understand the specific needs of the commercial vehicle buyer. This includes gaining knowledge on aspects such as the legislation pertaining specifically to loading a vehicle, as well as the necessary technical knowledge to enable them to make informed decisions on aspects such as how gearing, torque, load and road gradient affect a vehicle’s suitability for a specific task.”

Each outlet has also invested more than R10 000 in equipment and special tools to enable them to service and maintain these models. Light Commercial Vehicle Centres will also have access to a dedicated parts contact at Peugeot head office in Johannesburg for speedy ordering and delivery of parts. As well as keeping an inventory of fast-moving items (which will be constantly monitored and measured to see how these patterns change), breakdown parts not on this fast-moving list will be delivered overnight.

So those are the products in the range, and the company’s plans to back those products. But what are Peugeot’s aspirations in the local market? Bacos wants to do a whole lot better. “We sell more than 200 000 light commercial vehicles per year in Europe alone and we are in a strong number one position. The second biggest player has only a 15% share of the market. Bearing this in mind, we hope to be the panel van leader in South Africa,” he tells FOCUS.

Bacos believes there is considerable room for growth at this end of the market. “Our Light Commercial Vehicle Centres will enable us to better meet the needs of existing Peugeot commercial vehicle owners and give prospective buyers another compelling reason for using one of our products to enhance their business.”

Bacos is mindful of the fact that the local market is unique. In stark contrast to the badge at the front of its vehicles, Peugeot will never have the lion’s share of the local light or medium commercial vehicle markets – because it doesn’t sell bakkies. “The structure of this market is different – bakkies are huge here,” he concurs. “But we believe in vans – they are much safer than bakkies (although we have nothing against bakkies, of course!) A van has become a far more practical and intelligent method of carrying a large load in a secure environment, protected from the elements and secured in a safe manner. Cargo is extremely valuable and an enclosed vehicle increases the chances of it getting to its destination safely.”

He points out, quite aptly, that “this is not a fashionable market”. “We know that the customers are not looking for something pretty; they are looking for a good vehicle and good service,” Bacos notes.

And it’s pretty clear that in both areas – product and service – Peugeot Motors South Africa is determined to deliver…

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