Last month saw Al Masaood Automobiles, the authorised distributor of Renault in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and the Western region, launch the all-new and highly customisable 2022 Renault Duster Cargo SUV.
The launch couldn’t be more timely in a market that is finally embracing the concept of last mile deliveries. As more of us are moving online, now really is the time for fleets to take on vehicles that are nimble and flexible to get moving in the ‘new normal’.
Fredrick Vimal, General Manager, Sales-Renault Abu Dhabi, tells T&FME that he wants to use the Duster Cargo SUV to position Al Masaood Automobiles as a modernising pioneer in the market and help change the mindset of fleets along the way.
Having started his career in the advertising and retail sectors before spending the past two decades in the automotive industry, he believes that the vehicle is the best answer for SMEs wanting the best last mile delivery solution for their business. Especially as we all come to terms with a post-pandemic world.
“Two years ago, the time would not have been right,” he says. “But we have seen how popular this model is in Europe – you know Renault is one of the most popular brands in Europe, particularly in France. We wanted to replicate and have this particular Duster commercial model in our market, so we spent a lot of time trying to understand how best we can offer it.
“When the pandemic came, we saw a great opportunity because people really began moving online. You know, one of the major credit card companies said that 73% purchases are now made online.”
He pauses to reflect: “Never before did I think I would be purchasing online, so I’m a good example of what millions of others are now doing.”
“This is the new normal. And since people are getting used to the online way of purchasing and its convenience. We all hope that the worst of Covid situation has gone forever. I think the learnings and trends we have seen will continue and I’m sure that’s going to help us keep the Duster Cargo alive in the market.”
The Duster Cargo SUV itself is designed in a way that it can be utilised for both individual and company purposes. It is the only auto transmission SUV B offered as a light commercial vehicle (LCV) bearing the Renault Marque.
Al Masaood Automobiles is offering buyers a warranty period of three years or 100,000kms, depending on what comes first. The importer boasts that the four-cylinder engine automatic transmission and eco-mode and cruise control/speed limiter features, makes the Duster Cargo the sort of highly fuel-efficient vehicle – its consumption rating is 15.9 kilometres per litre – that would be attractive for fleets where the bottom line is everything.
It is pretty roomy for its class featuring a maximum boot capacity of 1,623 litres. It also makes the most of Renault’s latest digital and electronic features with Bluetooth connectivity and its well-regarded Electronic Stability Program (ESP) which heads a list of safety features.
Vimal says the finished package is the result of direct consultation with the market.
“We saw this model as a great opportunity. We went and spoke to a few of our key top clientele in the fleet market to have feedback on what kind of competition there is and whether this vehicle will be welcomed – because although this is a cargo vehicle in terms of space, we do have other models which are bigger in space,” he explains.
As in the European market, Vimal sees two major market strands for the Duster Cargo. He says that while there is now the need for Cargo-style vehicles which can operate alongside bigger vehicles for Transport and Logistics (T&L) firms, the growth in online sales is also creating a level playing field for SMEs across a variety of sectors. This is a vehicle which will help those businesses serve their growing list of customers.
“We are certainly targeting the smaller courier companies, retail chains and food distributors. We are also looking at facilities management companies as they require vehicles. It is surprising that the national retailers are interested in the Duster Cargo as a commercial vehicle, and so we are also targeting them.”
He adds: “Interestingly, we had an early large bulk order made by a major, Abu Dhabi-based distribution company. They had never used a smaller cargo vehicle like this before, so we offered them our demonstrator and they were thrilled by the practicality of it. At that point, the vehicle had only been out for a few weeks – it helped us have a very good take-off.”
Could this be a sign that the UAE market is ready to downsize its vehicles? T&FME asks.
“Realistically, these types of vehicles are not going to shake-up the heavy vehicles market here, but a cargo vehicle can be a great addition to their fleet,” he replies, and then pauses: “Possibly in the mid-segment there might be a slight disruption but not necessarily a huge impact. Obviously, the cargo space is relatively small compared to those vehicles. There is a niche about it.
“So, a fleet business who is going to buy this particular vehicle will likely keep their large fleet of bigger trucks.”
Niche it may be but, as Vimal suspected after studying the European market, a key to the Duster Cargo’s success could be its ability to fulfil a long list of roles across a wide number of sectors.
“This is something that can be an entry level SUV cargo and commercial vehicle. We are focusing on the fact that that it is an SUV cargo for a very affordable price. I think people relate to it and it won’t cost them heavily,” he remarks. “While most of these online companies do want bigger space, there are more companies, who want a cargo vehicle that is not very big and at the same time has agility and manoeuvrability on the road.”
As ever, a new type of model in the UAE market can often find a role beyond its original purpose. To that end – and most surprisingly – Al Masaood Automobiles is seeing demand from private Emirati customers through its passenger retail arm.
“This is doing wonders for us as the other vehicles from the competition are not SUVs which is one of the largest classes in the market. It is one of the plusses for the Duster Cargo and it’s definitely regarded as one of the smartest offerings in conjunction with the current scenario.
He continues: “The SME companies are primarily going to be the target, but we have been pleasantly surprised that we have even seen the some of the retail customers are interested for their home purpose,” he explains.
“In the UAE, and especially Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, there are more UAE National customers. They have huge villas and large farmhouses and interestingly we keep getting a lot of enquiries from them because they feel they can give it to their caretaker. He can then use it to run-around from one farm to another, or to the villa.”
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, fleets were finding it tougher to secure funding for new vehicles and this became an even greater concern at the start of 2021 with fewer banks offering loans for capital purchases. Six months on, Vimal is seeing a loosening from banks as the year enters its second half but adds that Al Masaood Automobiles is continuing to plug customers into its own financial ecosystem, providing in-house funding on a case-by-case basis where it can.
“Banks have become a little more accommodating as long as the length of business is there and they are able to prove they can pay the loan,” he tells T&FME. “However, we do provide a one-stop solution here. When a customer enters into Al Masaood, we make sure that we are there to assist them from every point of view along their own customer journey. Most certainly the finance aspect is a very important thing and we do assist our clients to get the right funding.”
Some fleets in the UAE are seeing leasing as a potential route to growing their fleet and 2020 saw the authorised distributor of Nissan, INFINITI and Renault launch Al Masaood Auto Leasing launch its own service solution intended to providing personalised leasing solutions according to a retail or corporate customer’s needs.
“This is an area we have already looked at for the Duster Cargo,” explains Vimal. “We are working with our counterparts in the leasing department. There will be a leasing option offered in the market which I’m sure many of the SMEs will look into.”
The firm is also offering clients the opportunity to get the vehicle branded. Given the uniqueness of the vehicle, it seems like the perfect platform to promote yourself as a unique and innovative business.
“Any customer who is buying this particular vehicle, the first thing they want to do is be seen in the market,” states Vimal. “One of the ways to see it is through branding and they can do that through us as we offer a one-stop customisation solution through our channel partners. Alternatively, they will go out and find their own solution provider.”
One concern for any potential fleet buyer will be the potential residual value of the Duster Cargo, particularly as it is effectively a hybrid of SUV and van covering a relatively new market segment. Vimal firmly believes that the vehicle’s blurring of the lines between being a personal vehicle and a professional cargo-style will work in its favour down the line.
“It’s a plug-and-play solution that you can switch back to increase the residual value for customers,” he remarks. “With the Duster Cargo, we are converting it from a passenger vehicle to a cargo vehicle which is locally approved by the road authorities in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. Being plug-and-play means at a later date, the customers can always put back the seats and can either continue to use the vehicle or they can sell it.
“No other vehicle can offer this particular feature. We have our pre-owned division and again, as I said, it’s a complete solution and we can assist a customer if they seek an exit point or if they want to just merely trade in their vehicle.”
Whatever way they choose to use the Duster Cargo, Vimal says that fleet clients will always
get the back-up they need to keep their business moving.
“Al Masaood is a very customer-centric company,” he says. “And specifically with Renault being a smaller brand within the market, we have adapted some of the dynamic ways of approaching the clients during the pandemic to ensure that we are with the customers at every step. You know, we have a record-breaking response time of 30 minutes from the time an enquiry lands on our desk. The industry standard is two hours. It’s human nature, that, if you respond quickly, people appreciate that this person is interested in them. At Al Masaood, the customer understands that they are being treated properly.”
With our conversation coming to a close, Vimal looks back on his time on the front line of dealing with customers and how he quickly realised why it was important to put them first. In many ways, it is a road that many of the new online start-ups buying their first Duster Cargo will be travelling in the coming months.
“I started from scratch and have seen both sides of the automotive retail world. It helps me to understand the customer psychology, how a salesperson should respond and what it means to not just talk but also deliver a true customer experience.”