An expanded corporate sales team, a new product range and a fleet-focused network will help bring Nissan continued sales success. That’s according to Nissan UK sales director Darren Payne, who joined from Renault six months ago, replacing Barry Beeston who is now country director at sister brand Infiniti.
Payne explains: “I want to ensure those customers that aren’t currently dealing with us consider us because of the UK manufacturing base we offer; consider us because of our strong position in the market; and consider us because of the quality support we offer to fleet customers and the breadth of product we now have.”
Nissan built almost half a million cars in the UK last year, with Juke, Leaf, Note and the winner of the best mid-size SUV category at this year’s Fleet News Awards – Qashqai – all produced at its Sunderland plant. The north-east factory opened in 1986 and its future was secured just last week when it was announced that it will produce next generation Qashqai and X-Trail.
The Qashqai has been a phenomenal success for Nissan, helping the business achieve a record market share of more than 5% last year.
Payne wants to build on that growth this year, but explains: “What’s really important to us is the quality of business that we’re doing. We’re not just doing volume for volume’s sake.”
Core fleet and leasing volume is up 22% year-on-year, while its commercial vehicle division reported a 68% year-on-year rise which has been helped by the new Navara.
Fleet sales figures show a 5.6% share of the fleet car market, unchanged from 2015 despite volume growth, and a 5.3% share of the commercial vehicle market, up from 3.5% last year.
Fleet News: Where is your fleet sales growth coming from?
Darren Payne: It’s partly coming from Motability. We see Motability as a key, quality sales channel for us. It represents three-year business and it’s maintained through the dealer network.
We’ve had quite a big engagement plan with the network for a while now and one of the key things we’ve done is we now target our network on Motability.
Part of that is ensuring our dealers are really focused on Motability customers and that we have the right level of training within the dealerships so that those customers get the best treatment.
FN: What about your ‘true fleet’ performance?
DP: We’ve also had a very strong performance across the core fleet and contract hire area, with a 36% increase overall, a 49% increase in crossover and an 113% increase in Navara from April to September, compared to the same six-month period in 2015.
The message is that our growth is coming from those core fleet parts of the market – the quality parts – and our intention is to grow that area of our business.
FN: How do you intend to achieve that?
DP: We intend to do less rental this year than we did in the previous one. The reduction is in the thousands so it is significant.
We will also continue to invest in our people. Plus we will invest in our business dealer network to ensure they’re meeting the needs of customers and new product launches.
We’ve got eight area fleet managers with a new prospecting platform so there’s a real focus on those fleets of between 50 and 300 vehicles.
On top of that, the number of people we have that are focused on the dealers will increase from five to eight and they’re there to work with the local fleet specialists we have at the business centres to pick up the volume at the smaller end of the market – typically the sub-50 fleets. Obviously, we also have a keen eye on those fleets operating more than 300 vehicles as well.
FN: How big is Nissan’s fleet sales team?
DP: We now have more than 50 people which includes the six corporate sales managers who are looking after the 300-plus fleets.
We’ve got a real specialism in EV, with two fleet EV managers who can spend time with customers, and there are four contract hire and leasing managers as we need to improve the relationship we have with the leasing sector.
We’ve also got a dedicated fleet marketing team, which not every competitor will have, and we have LCV and special vehicle operation support looking after conversions, etc.
FN: How big is Nissan’s business centre network now and how do you intend to develop it?
DP: We want to grow the business centre network. At the moment we have 57 business centres, 63 local fleet specialists and a dealer fleet team of five supporting the network. But we want to develop that further by increasing our business centre network to 70, the number of local fleet specialists to 100 and the dealer fleet team to eight. That will be supported by a new customer promise which we’re currently working on.
FN: How are you changing your model line-up to increase fleet appeal?
DP: We’re introducing a new, higher powered 2.0-litre diesel engine for the X-Trail to widen its appeal. What we’ve found is quite a number of customers, particularly in the fleet sector, have asked for a bigger, more powerful diesel engine, an auto option and an auto on 4x4.
With the 1.6 diesel we have today we only really have access to 24% of the market, this will open up another half – 47% – increasing our access to the market to 71%. It’s a huge opportunity for us.
We’re just launching the NV300 into the biggest segment of the van market which gives us one of the broadest ranges in the market, with NV200, NV400, Navara and the NT400. It comes with the five-year 100,000-mile warranty and has four versions: panel van, crew van, combi and platform.
New Micra, moving from A to B segment, will also open up a huge part of the market we’re currently not in. It has a fantastic amount of personalisation which is important for this segment. It drives really well and the interior quality is fantastic.
FN: You have also decided to re-align your pricing on Pulsar on average by £2,000, why did you make this move?
DP: The C-sector is under considerable pressure so we’ve looked at it again and talking to our network we’ve agreed on a repositioning of the car. It’s the same car, the same great technology, but now at a much lower price which improves our competitive position.
FN: What’s your four-year plan for increasing the autonomy of your vehicles?
DP: Stage one will be Qashqai which will involve single lane control in 2017 and over the next four years we will increase the capability into multiple lane control .
By the end of the decade, we will have inner-city autonomy, enabling vehicles to negotiate cross-roads and intersections without driver intervention.
Nissan will also offer its own telematics solution for the first time after striking a deal with Telogis to offer connected car services, last month.
The system will initially be fitted to vehicles after they have left the factory, but will be factory fitted from 2017/18. Pricing is yet to be announced.
“So far it’s mainly been commercial vehicles that have used the technology, but we see an opportunity with cars,” says Payne.
The Nissan telematics system will connect the car or van to Telogis’ mobile resource management (MRM) software platform.
It will analyse proprietary data from each vehicle, including driver and vehicle performance history, and turn it into actionable information to help fleets of all sizes make more informed business decisions.
Payne concludes: “We need to maximise the opportunities that we have within the market.”