Renault: a new construct 05 December 2013

Following its range renewal in Lyon last June, Renault has now revealed its construction range. Ian Norwell went to a Barcelona granite quarry to check out the offerings for tipper and mixer operators

When you renew an entire truck range, with new cabs, engines, chassis and running gear, it allows design engineers to pick and choose from an array of different components to get it right. In replacing its Premium, Lander and Kerax models, Renault has introduced the 'C' (construction) and 'K' (heavy-duty) ranges that bring Euro 6 compliance, and – most noticeable – standardisation on AMTs (automated manual transmissions). Manual gearboxes have been further relegated to an option on a few 2.3m cabs with eight litre engines. Their days are numbered.

The last bastion of the manual box, the construction sector is finally letting go of that crunchy stick in the cab floor. For good reason:, the control you need on site puts specific demands on ratio choice and control, but the increasing sophistication of software designed around off-road work has now put it front of house for the construction sector.

Parent company Volvo has refined its I-Shift offering for its construction chassis and there's clearly been some cross-fertilisation here from Gothenburg. Be it construction or long-haul, the 12-speed Optidriver AMT, from Renault, has many of the I-Shift's internal organs and software. It's one place where the advantages of the 'same-suit, different-pockets' strategy can pay off without spoiling brand differentiation.

I drove one specimen with the Optidriver box that did not have off-road mode, and it was a good demonstration of why you would want it. The speed of decision-making, and swift interpretation of changing demands that off-road mode can deploy are impressive. Even so, it is important to say that a manual mode is included, which was worth reverting to for full control on the descents. This, and the retarder (two-stage Optibrake is standard; five-stage Voith an option), which provides up to 414kW (Optibrake+) of friction-free braking on the 12.8 litre DTI 13 engine, kept my feet away from the footbrake.

Cabs and power
Compared to the outgoing Kerax – which addressed the muck-away sector in the UK, where robustness of build quality is top of fleet engineers' wish-lists – the new K range looks like doing a better job. New chassis with better options for bodybuilders, Euro 6 common-rail engines with increased torque and resigned cabs make a strong package.

Protection from damage for the hardest working of chassis has been addressed with liberal use of steel on bumpers and exposed parts up and down the chassis. It may eat into payload, but if it keeps trucks on the move and out of the workshops' repair bays, the economic argument is strong.

Two engines, (nominally 11 and 13 litre) give six power options from 380—520bhp, while torque values span the 1,800—2,550Nm range. Both engines are naturally SCR (selective catalytic reduction) based: they do use EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) but only to achieve operating temperature, when it is switched off.
Cabs have lost that utilitarian feel and now have much in common with the long-haul T range, although the trapezoidal design and improved aerodynamics will provide less of an advantage here. A claimed best approach angle of 32º will help in tight spots, as will a reduced turning radius of 9 metres on the 6x4.

Renault is keen to point out that it does not regard the construction sector as the poor relation as far as driver ergonomics go, and the K and C range interiors can be regarded as good testament to that. We are familiar with 'trickle-down' technology from bigger trucks, but as all Renault's ranges have been launched from the same pad, it must be regarded as a clear decision to upgrade its tipper and mixer chassis offerings from the outset.

Safe passage
Duty of care legislation towards employees and those affected by their activities has produced a pair of interesting options. The breathalyser ignition interlock is now available on these chassis ex-factory, and many feel that some form of legislation can only be over the next hill. And to prevent unauthorised entry into a sleeping driver's cab at night, a mechanical door lock that slides a steel bar over the grab handles provides an extra level of personal safety. It's a sad sign of the times.

Meanwhile, a positive safety appearance is made by the automatic electronic parking brake, as well as the hill start aid to prevent rolling back. To those who say it's de-skilling the job, the counter is that it only takes one brief unintended roll back or forward to put a serious injury on the accident record.

The drive
I drove three examples, all with tipper bodies: a K460 8x4, with the 11-litre engine; a K520 6x4, with the 13-litre; and a C320 eight-litre 6x4. Over a challenging course in a Barcelona granite quarry they all performed well up to expectations. Low noise levels (particularly on the K520) and very good seats made light of the work.
Controls for the AMT were simple and intuitive and the dash was suitably uncomplicated. Drivers are likely to resort to manual mode on site until they get familiar with the vehicle, but the road work will be pure AMT. Also, a 'distribution' passenger door gave extra glass in the nearside footwell, leading to a horizontally sliding electric window, because the door cavity is insufficient for a conventional one. It looked like a good idea for more than distribution vehicles.

However, the large multi-function steering wheel, even though properly adjusted, often obscured dashboard information when not in the straight ahead position. Maybe this won't be an issue for regular drivers, but I found occasions when gear or retarder data was not visible while the steering wheel was executing a turn. That's a minor gripe, though, on a truck with a solid feel to it.

Fleet efficiency
With further developed versions of its Optifleet telematics and Optifuel training packages, Renualt now delivers the kind of detailed information on truck and driver performance that have become indispensable. Geolocation of vehicles, hourly monitoring of fuel economy and worksite driver training, are all aimed at squeezing economy.

Away from the brutish K520 'Extrem', and the other 6x6 specialists, the bread and butter volume model for Renault in the UK will be the 'C' range 8x4, which goes for payload and will be aimed squarely at the sand and aggregate fleets.
According to Nigel Butler, Renault UK's commercial director, the 11-litre 430bhp truck is likely to lead its new registration figures, with the mixer fleets – which have virtually deserted their old staple six-wheeler in favour of four axles – probably taking the 460.

Renault has made a good fist of replacing what had become, by its own admission, a 'bits-and-pieces' range. If registrations in construction don't improve, it won't be for want of a better truck. In 2012, Renault took 5.3% and 7.4% respectively of the three- and four-axle rigids in the UK. On a level playing field, the firm should do better with these new ranges. Its difficulty will come from a field that keeps tilting – with a lot of other hot, new competition out there. Volvo's FMX and the Mercedes-Benz Arocs will be the biggest worries.

Ian Norwell

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