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The lack of a manual gearbox option and a hefty price tag has led Scania-loyal W Metcalfe Transport to shop elsewhere, and that has seen it put two Renault Range T520 Highs on the road...

By Pip Dunn

 

Thompson Commercials, the largest independent Renault Trucks dealer in the UK, has supplied Scania-loyal W Metcalfe Transport with two Renault T520 Highs. Paul Armstrong, Thompsons Northern Area Sales Manager, specced up the vehicle and provided the £24,000 less price to Peter Metcalfe.

 

The phone call from Peter Metcalfe, owner of W Metcalfe & Sons, started like this: "Pip, I've gone over to the dark side..." I was intrigued. "I've bought an automatic." He continued. "And wait, you'll not believe this. But it's a Renault. In fact, I've ordered two of them!"

I have to admit that I was just a little bit 'concerned' at that point. Was he OK? Should I call a doctor or even the Samaritans? Did Peter need a stiff drink? You see, Peter had sworn by manual gearboxes all his life, so much so when I went to see him for Trucking three years ago, he was of the view that if any new driver joined the firm, they'd need to be competent with a stick and clutch, either that or look elsewhere for driving work.

And not only that, he was pretty much Scania-loyal. His fleet was all Scanias apart from a second-hand DAF CF530, which had not only been too good a deal to turn down but was his preferred tag axle set up and, of course, had a manual gearbox. A second-hand 2006 Volvo FH13 was also a recent addition on the whim of the boss!

So I was surprised that he'd not only gone auto, but, Renault auto. This was a story worth chasing up. We kept in touch, but as so often is the case with new truck orders, there are delays, one Range T520 High turned up in October, followed by the second five weeks later.

 

No more manuals

I first met Peter in 2020 when I went to see his restored, and occasionally working, Scania R143M.450 for Classic Truck magazine. An amiable, no-nonsense Yorkshireman, he was very passionate about his lorries and the industry.

Over the years, he's operated other marques, including ERF, Foden, DAF, MAN and Volvo. But in recent years, he's settled on Scanias for their driver appeal, reliability and because the Södertälje manufacturer was one of the few to still offer a manual gearbox.

But when he ordered his new lorry, he asked for a price on another R-cabbed 500hp tag axle tractor unit with a manual gearbox on steel wheels. But the salesman told him it would have to be an automatic as Scania had dropped the manual option as there was little demand for it and the driveline had moved over to the new Super models, so it was not worth designing a manual Super model. He was also told a 500R Super 6x2 tag would set him back £139,000.

With no manual available from Scania, and a price he wasn't happy with, he decided to look elsewhere... "I thought if I was going to have to have an automatic, I'd shop around," says Peter as we chat over a coffee on the bright Sunday morning in Wensleydale. And those investigations led him to the door of Paul Armstrong at Thompson's Commercials at Rainton, near Harrogate. He specced up a R520 T High tag axle and the price came back at just £115,000. He was getting a better- and bigger cab than an R series for £24,000 less. And yes, he'd have to finally bite the bullet - or go over to the dark side - and have an automatic. "I kind of knew this day would be coming, so I was, sort of, prepared for it," he laughs, "but the fact that Scania has dropped manuals, even in an R series, was the final nail."

But the deal was good enough for him to order two R520s at the same time. That was some 18 months ago, in the spring of 2022, and it is only just now that the trucks are in use.

 

Why Renault?

Given how his fleet has been pretty much all-Scania for many years now, how did Peter decide that he was going to forsake the big Swedes for the new Frenchmen?

"At the end of the day, the Renault is just a Volvo driveline," says Peter, "but saving £24,000 and getting a bigger truck with a better specification is a no-brainer. It's also got alloy wheels. I can't get that kind of a deal with Scania. I'm not overly worried about residual values. Our trucks usually go for export and have very high mileages. So, having said he was now going to look elsewhere, Peter didn't take too long to land on Renault. "I once had a Premium, and it wasn't a bad truck. So I looked at the Range T. If I was going to go for a Renault, I was going to get a flagship."

"I didn't look at MAN, Iveco or Mercedes. Iveco doesn't do a tag for a start, though the S-Way is a nice-looking truck. I guess deep down, I just wanted a Renault."

The first man to take a Renault was Malc Hillary, 52, Peter's longest-serving driver. Malc has given up his Sunday morning to not only come and see me, but also to take the truck out into the beautiful Wensleydale countryside. I previously met Malcolm when I saw his Scania back for Trucking issue 459 in October 2021.

He's a seasoned veteran, having passed his test at 21, and also a consummate professional, he offered to take one of the new trucks. Was he feeling he was taking a step down in having a Renault, having been a Scania man? "Not at all," he says, "It's a lovely truck inside, fantastic."

Malc is experienced enough to know a good driver will drive what his boss wants him to drive; he has no badge snobbery or preconceptions and has been exceptionally surprised by just about everything on the Renault. "It takes some getting used to four steps, but I've not missed the gearstick!"

Malc tends to do day work, but is not averse to night out and appreciates the room and the storage in the Range T High. 512hp is also slightly more than the Scania, but the torque is the same at 2,550Nm.

 

In-house maintenance

Is there anything Peter doesn't like about the Renault? "Not really. The cup holders are poor but we are having new trays and cupholders for the centre console fitted. The trucks have had side locker boxes and checker-plate catwalks fitted."

Peter buys his trucks outright and doesn't take R&M. "We have our own workshops here. Why would I want R&M? It's always cheaper for us to take trucks without it. They [the dealers] knock off the R&M cost at the purchase. Besides, Scania at Darlington is our nearest dealer, so it becomes expensive getting the trucks there." The nearest Renault dealer is also several miles down the A1M. "Having our own workshops really helps us," he adds.

"We will keep the T520 Highs for at least five years," says Peter. "I've bought them outright on finance, but I put down a decent deposit, so I'm never in negative equity."

T60WMS had been on the road for five weeks under the care of Malc. T70WMS, however, had yet to hit the road but would do so the day after my visit.

It's too early to say how they are doing on fuel in terms of consistency, but so far, T60 is returning an average of about 8mpg, which, on the mixed work it does, is very good. While Metcalfe's does a lot of fridge work for

Freshlinc, which involves motorway running down to Spalding, Malc tends to be more of a 'jack of all trades' driver and is often hauling flatbed loaded to the maximum with straw, timber or tyres, not to mention low loader or step-frame work. There is also some tanker work - albeit less so these days -plus curtainsiders. It does say 'Move it with Metcalfe's' on all the trucks!

There are 40 trailers, which are kept in a second yard a stone's throw from the main yard. "I like to have lots of different jobs," says Peter. "When it's going well, it's OK to have all your eggs in one basket, but I like not to be exposed as nothing ever stays the same. But transport is like being a hamster in a wheel; it's never ending!" "I told Malc I was getting the 520s, and I wanted him to have one, and he was more than happy to take one," laughs Peter. "Malc's getting used to an automatic! Although he's had no issues with it. He's a good lad, though, and never moans."

 

Tag team

The company has 16 drivers and 16 trucks, and the work is a mix of traction, fridge and general haulage. There is a mix of day drivers and trampers.

There are the two Renaults, the DAF CF530, a 2006 Volvo FH13.480, and Scanias - an old R164L 580, five R450s, and six New Gen R500s, while Peter has recently just bought an old R164.480 from Ireland that was once previously owned by the company. All are tags apart from the FH13, which is a midlift and is essentially Peter's lorry. "I bought that via Facebook," he says. "I saw it in Tavistock [Devon] and thought it was just what I wanted so I did a deal there and then. I then drove down there to pick it up."

Only the FH13, the 580 Scania and the DAF CF were bought second-hand. "That DAF was a great deal, and the driver has really looked after it. It's immaculate inside and has nearly a million clicks on it in just five years. It's well-worked."

The restored R143M is still good for a day's work if necessary... or if Peter just fancies taking it out for a spin, which, unsurprisingly, is pretty often! Peter still does regular stints behind the wheel, and also adds, "I won't ask any of my drivers to do what I wouldn't be happy doing myself."

If you look at Peter's trucks you'll see the company was established in 1927, and Peter is already thinking about the flagship he's going to order to commemorate a 100 years in business in 2027 and that will besome big, high powered and special. "I was looking at a V8 Scania, but I now think it may be a Volvo. Scanias are just getting too expensive."

"I aim to buy two new tractor units each year, but it depends on what's in the bank and the workload. We have had DAFS and Volvos in the past, and a Volvo FH540 will be the next purchase."

One thing you notice about the Renaults is how smart they look in the company's red, with traditional style lining. The cabs are already painted in red, a slightly deeper shade than on the previous Scanias, and the rest of the painting was done by Tim Pool at Pickering. The graphics - the lining and logos are transfers and applied by Classic Signs in nearby Newton Aycliffe. Burrows Fabrications at Milnthorpe provided the lockers and catwalks. "I do wish I'd had the diesel tanks painted red!" adds Peter.

Both T520s are fitted with ADR kit to give the company an extra string to its bow of services it can offer by carrying certain types of hazardous chemicals. "The Renaults are also slightly lighter than the Scanias, and I normally wouldn't have had alloy wheels. But the next new lorry, a Volvo, will also have alloys." An FH540 has since been ordered for 2024.

The T520s have a three-metre wheelbase and have 315/80 tyres on the drive axle and 365/22s on the steering and tag axles. "The super singles are good for the farm tracks we cover," adds Peter.

Peter works the trucks very hard, a 17-plate Scania is in the yard being stripped for spare parts with 1.6million km on the clock.

So far, both Peter and Malc have been. impressed with the Renaults. "The air suspension is so much better on the Renault," says Peter while Malc is full of praise for the room inside the cab.

"I can't say I'll be all-Renault in five years times," says Peter, "but I'm sure the brand will stand the test of time."

 

Shooting practice

It's time to take the trucks out for pictures and we head to Barden Moor, which means passing through the garrison town at Catterick.

I take T70, which has just 5.4km on its clock. I don't think I've ever driven a truck this new before and driven it before the driver it's intended for has even got his hands on it! And I've certainly never quadrupled a vehicle's mileage in one go!

The truck is so new, there's still plastic on the steering column and on the seats, which all needs to be removed before we set off.

Malc leads, I follow, and we find a nice spot with a scenic backdrop. It's right on the cusp of military country, and the drivers of the constant procession (well, a few at any rate!) of army Land Rovers do not seem overly fussed by our presence.

Standing in the fine autumnal sunshine, the trucks certainly stand out, with their colour-coded mirrors, lightbars, and Yorkshire proudly displayed across the sun visors. These could easily win awards at any truck show!

I start shooting the trucks, and I can hear shooting of another kind as the hills echo to the sound of gunfire as army recruits are put through their paces. Given the amount of unrest in the world at the moment, it's understandable that military manoeuvres are ongoing even on a chilly but incredibly sunny Sunday morning in North Yorkshire.

Malc is happy to shunt the truck into various positions to allow me to get my images at all different angles, after the photoshoot is over, amidst bouts of chatting and shunting, we take the trucks back to the yard.

Once back, driver Dave Hitchen has arrived, he'll be taking on T70 and is there to kit his cab out with his belongings, add some branded Renault mudflaps and a couple of extra marker lights. He, too, says he's more than happy to have taken on the Range T High.

It is fair to say that so far, Peter is happy with his big French beauties and says he has "24,000 reasons for making the switch." He's not saying he'll never buy Scanias again, far from it, but at the moment, this canny Yorkshireman is more than happy with his new acquisitions. And now he's on the automatic bandwagon, their choice is much wider than it was before.

There is no denying the Range T High is an impressive flagship, proven by the increasing number of them you see on the roads. The question is, will this French revolution spread further in the field? I have a hunch it may well do.

 

Specification:

  • Model: Renault T520 High Design
  • GCW: 26,000kg/44,000kg
  • GVW Chassis: 3,000mm wheelbase
  • Front axle: 8,000kg capacity.
  • Rear axles: 11,500kg (drive) 7,500kg (tag)
  • Engine: 12.8-litre DTI, 6-cylinder, Euro 6e
  • Gearbox: Optidriver AT2612F 12-speed with automatic clutch. Max power: 512hp at 1430- 1,700rpm
  • Max torque: 2,550Nm at 990-1,400rpm
  • Cab: T High, 2.5m wide, flat floor