Local assembly of Renault vehicles in Malaysia is not new though it has been inconsistent. The brand had a couple of the models (the 5 and 12) assembled in the 1960s and 1970s when the government urged carmakers to assemble their products locally to contribute to the impetus of industrialisation of the country. Then when Federal Auto acquired the franchise in the 1990s, it assembled the 19 at its own plant in Shah Alam, Selangor. But the brand then went into a period of uncertainty in this market and Renault itself wasn’t particularly interested in the region either, so sales were limited to models imported in completely built-up form (CBU).
The Tan Chong Group took on the Renault franchise in 2004, perhaps due to Nissan and Renault having an alliance. It imported some models, selling them through its subsidiary TC Euro Cars (TCEC) but just like Federal Auto, having its own plant provided an opportunity to persuade Renault to consider local assembly. For a brand to grow its volume in Malaysia, local assembly is a must as the incentives available enable pricing to be more competitive. So Renault agreed to send CKD (completely knocked-down) kits of the Kangoo light commercial vehicle for assembly at Tan Chong Motor Assemblies (TCMA) in Segambut, Kuala Lumpur.
Though unusual in looks, the Kangoo sold reasonably well as its design also helped it find a market niche. To help achieve high production volume, Renault also took some units to supply to other markets regionally and began to consider Malaysia as a regional manufacturing hub for its products.
Following the end of Kangoo production, TCEC decided to have the Fluence assembled locally and now, it has added the Captur crossover SUV as well. While the Fluence assembled in Malaysia is largely a product derived from Renault’s Korean affiliate in the Alliance, the Captur comes from Spain which is the global source for the model. It wasn’t easy to get Renault to agree to a CKD program for the Captur as the numbers were not huge, something which is needed to make a good business case. Indonesia has the Duster SUV assembled there and could have been imported to Malaysia but it was felt that the Duster would not appeal to Malaysians as much as the Captur.
Incentives offered by the Malaysian government under the current National Automotive Policy were attractive enough as they would lower the retail price. These incentives are provided for models that qualify as Energy Efficient Vehicles (EEVs) and basically, they offset the production cost so that a lower retail price is possible. The government studies the costing closely because it expects all the savings to be passed on the consumers and not help a company make some extra profit.
More significantly, for Renault management, was the plan to also export the Captur regionally. This won’t happen immediately as the amount of ASEAN content needs to be at least 40% so that may take another year to reach. Once that level is reached, then the Captur assembled in Malaysia would qualify for duty-free importation in any ASEAN country under the AFTA (ASEAN Free Trade Area) agreement. So, with exports included, there was a business case which was acceptable to the French carmaker and it was willing to spend time and money to run a program to develop a CKD variant.
Contrary to what many may think, CKD models are not merely unassembled vehicles that are sent overseas in boxes. CKD models also need specific engineering programs as they need to take into consideration different methods of assembly (ie less automation) and substitution of some parts with locally-made items.
Initially, for the model assembled in Malaysia since last month, the bodyshells come from Spain already painted while the bumpers are finished locally. As time goes on, some items will be omitted as local (or ASEAN) suppliers are found. But whatever is sourced locally still needs to be tested and approved by Renault in the same way as those parts that are sourced for its European factory. So when TCEC decides on tyres from a local factory, they must be sent to Renault for testing to ensure it meets their quality standards.
“Malaysia is the only other country in the world to assemble the Captur model, besides Renault’s factory in Spain, and this is a significant step forward in cementing Renault’s commitment in Malaysia,” said Kim Taejoon, Vice-President – Supply Chain, for Renault Asia Pacific. He added that the Captur has been produced since 2013 and is one of Renault’s top-selling models, and it is the bestseller in its segment in Europe.
Local assembly of the Captur has dropped its price to RM109,000 (excluding insurance) and if you are among the first 100 buyers, you will enjoy an ‘early bird’ discount of RM11,000 which will further reduce the price to less than RM100,000.
Like the CBU models that have been on sale since 2015, the Captur comes in a two-tone exterior paint scheme. The CKD version has 4 colour choices – red, orange or ivory with a black roof, and blue with a white roof. The dual-colour scheme is not easy to do which is probably one reason why it is more cost-effective for TCEC to import the bodyshells already painted.
The technical specifications are the same as the CBU models with the same 1.2-litre turbocharged direct injection petrol engine that produces 120 ps/190 Nm. The engine, which also has variable valve timing at the intake and exhaust sides, is a fuel-sipping unit with claimed consumption of up to 18.5 kms/litre. This can be stretched by 10% if the ECO mode is activated. Some motorists may even go further if they are light-footed, as we discovered on a drive to Port Dickson last year.
Part of the fuel economy is helped by the efficient 6-speed dual-clutch transmission (EDC), through which power flows to the front wheels. The EDC is a Renault-developed unit and is a combination of two parallel half gearboxes which work together and are both designed like a traditional manual gearbox. The engine torque is transmitted to each half gearbox via a specific clutch (one looks after the 1st, 3rd and 5th gears and the other handles the 2nd, 4th and 6th as well as reverse). At the optimum moment, gears are changed by shifting from one clutch to the other, the first clutch opens whilst the second closes simultaneously which guarantees continuous and smooth traction during transitions between ratios.
Equipment levels are impressively high if you think of the Captur in the size class although they are as comprehensive as would be expected if you consider by price class. You get auto-activating headlights, rain sensors and a reverse camera as standard and in the safety department, mandatory airbags are of course present along with ISOFIX points for childseats. There’s also electronic stability control and hill-start assist for active safety. Incidentally, the Captur has been rated a full 5 stars by EuroNCAP.
As with most of its models, the Captur comes with a slim card (pictured above right) that operates the door and rear hatch locks. It also comes with an engine start/stop button which is fast becoming commonplace these days, making the traditional key unnecessary.
The French have always been known for their unique approach to styling and this is evident in the Captur. A feature which will be appreciated, especially by those who frequently take the vehicle off-road for outdoor activities, is the removable and washable seat covers. If they get muddy or too dusty, the seat covers can be unzipped and thrown in a washing machine to be cleaned. The rather hard non-porous seat backs can also be wiped with a wet cloth while part of the boot floor has a plastic surface that is easily cleaned.
The compact size of the Captur (4.1 metres long, 1.8 metres wide) means that every millimetre counts and packaging has to be optimised not only for passengers but also for the cargo they will carry. The rear bench seat, which can accommodate 3 persons, folds forward and the 60:40 backrests can lie completely flat. If both backrests are down, there’s enough floor length for a bicycle (with wheels installed) to fit into the cargo area. Extra depth is available in the boot floor by removing the cover.
The first public display of the CKD Captur will be at the 1Utama shopping centre in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, from tomorrow until Sunday. It will be in Renault showrooms nationwide from April 22 onwards when test-drives will be available on request.