American Cartoon Family Plugs Renault’s Budget MPV
By Andy Bannister
Given that there is not a single French new car on sale in America these days, it seems a little ironic that European TV audiences are currently being treated to a series of TV commercials featuring none other than The Simpsons selling the latest Kangoo II small people carrier from Renault.
Under a deal with 20th Century Fox, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie and grandfather Abraham Simpson have forsaken Springfield for the “real” world, testing Renault’s new-for-2008 model, which is designed to appeal to larger families on a tight budget.
America’s archetypal cartoon family is shown exploring the versatility of the capacious new Kangoo, which is based on the platform of the latest generation of Renault’s highly successful Clio supermini.
Boxy vans are a French tradition dating back decades. Renault’s first generation Kangoo, which succeeded the near-immortal Renault 4, was on sale for 10 years and sold 2.2 million examples – mostly panel vans – making it a major success in Europe and North Africa. The new model is larger, more sophisticated, and the company is pushing the MPV version harder than ever before.
These commercial vehicle-derived MPVs are big business in Europe, and Renault has for years being fighting arch-rival Peugeot, which has also had major success with its entrants in this market, the near-identical Peugeot Partner and Citroën Berlingo twins.
The Partner/Berlingo are also being replaced this year by all-new, significantly enlarged models, and Peugeot is upping the game with an additional smaller van, the Citroën Nemo /Peugeot Bipper, which may also spawn MPV versions.
There are now eight Kangoo variants from which to choose, spread across a range with two trim levels – Authentique and Expression. They offer the choice of two petrol and two diesel engines, offering between 68hp and 95hp. The 1.2 and 1.6 16-valve petrol engines are complemented by two 1.5-litre dCi 68 and dCi 84 common-rail diesels with more torque and better fuel economy. The 1.6-litre offers an automatic transmission for the first time in this class.
The old Kangoo, especially in its early versions, was quite a crude and basic vehicle, offering an interesting driving experience, as it was tall, narrow and prone to cross-winds. The new model is said to have fixed this problem, whilst retaining the excellent visibility and carrying capacity this model is famous for.
This isn’t by any means the first time the French company has enlisted popular animated characters to add appeal to its cars. Belgian cult boy detective Tintin was used to sell a special edition version of the old Renault Twingo, and similarly British plasticene characters Wallace and Gromit had their own special edition version of the first-generation Kangoo.
One interesting variant of the old Kangoo seems to have died a death with the latest version. As part of the Nissan-Renault alliance, Nissan dealers in Europe offered their own version of the Kangoo Van, known as the Nissan Kubistar (pictured at left).
This experiment – which merely involved switching badges, as the Kubistar was built in the Kangoo’s French factory – was not a great success, with the Kangoo far outselling its Japanese twin. Nissan Europe continues to offer badge engineered versions of Renault’s larger panel vans, which are also shared with GM Opel.
Meanwhile, given Renault’s poor image as a result of its disastrous link up with AMC in the 1980s, it seems unlikely The Simpsons will ever have the chance to buy a Kangoo back home in Springfield.
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