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Under the Microscope: We talk to Nissan's managing director and fleet sales director

Date: 09 April 2018   |   Author: Rachel Boagey

Rachel Boagey talks to Nissan's managing director and fleet sales director about the brand's focus on electric vehicles.

'Welcome to Nissan, Maple Cross' says the revolving halo-shaped sign above the all-new electric Leaf in the reception of the manufacturer's sales and marketing offices.  

As if I needed reminding where I was or the significance of electric cars to the brand - just pulling up in a diesel car meant I had to circle the car park twice to find a parking space that wasn't reserved for EVs. 

Regularly found in the office are Nissan managing director Alex Smith and fleet sales director Iker Lazzari, owners of two of the many Leafs taking up the parking spaces outside. 

"What I was really delighted to find when I came to Nissan is that the automotive world and society is starting to come round to the view that the future of Nissan, and the alliance and automotive in general is electrification," Smith tells BusinessCar in one of the many large meeting rooms in the building. 

The importance of education 

One of the things Nissan prides itself on when it comes to electrification is education, something both Smith and Lazzari, who haven't long been working for the company, were happy to find when they moved here, but equally happy to be able to enhance even further. Nissan works closely with fleet dealer networks - 46 fleet business centres in total - around standards management as well as training. 

Smith, who has been at Nissan for around 18 months, explains, "I was looking to find a high degree of competence from the products, and the sales and marketing side of things, as well as from dealerships explaining alternative powertrains to customers and that's exactly what I found. 

Leaf 6

"The Leaf has been around for almost eight years now, far before my time, but I look forward to making sure we do a great job of explaining the product to our customers, not just presenting the product and saying, 'here you go', but also educating them about it." 

That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement, though. "The internal competitiveness here at Nissan means we always want to improve and the level of expertise we have in presenting EVs to our customers is great, but I still get up every day and think about what we can do better," Smith says. 

"In fact, my next meeting after this is the committee that reviews the initial stages of vehicle launches in the market, and analyses how the first few weeks of the sales went and what we can do in the future to improve this. Looking at what we can do to improve is the really exciting bit for me, because you can always do something better and I love that challenge." 

Leaf 3

In fleet, Smith believes that one of the differentiating factors Nissan has over other manufacturers is its focus on electrification and the way it educates potential buyers about
its products. 

"When we talk about it in the retail arena, we are always very careful to ensure the customer has a really good understanding of charging options and how the vehicle will fit into their personal infrastructure," he says. 

"In the fleet market, that is even more pronounced. If we look through the stats on the Leaf, it is a 9% BIK vehicle, so that makes it very suitable for fleets. When we sell it to fleets, we will also consult, to a good level of expertise, on what infrastructure the company might want to consider as they move towards electrifying their fleet. I'd like to think that we do that well and that is a very competitive advantage for us."

While visiting Nissan at Maple Cross, we had a chance to drive the new Leaf ahead of its UK launch, where the effort the manufacturer has put into the car became clear. It offers a 40kWh battery, which is 10kWh bigger than the previous model, meaning it has a greater range from
124 NEDC miles to 235 miles. 

"It's not just the bigger battery that has transformed the Leaf," says Smith. "We have launched the car with our new e-pedal, which is activated by a switch near the gear selector. It adds sufficient regenerative stopping power to the right-hand foot pedal to render the left-hand brake pedal almost redundant and makes it such a relaxing drive. 

"It's a car with a 100% electric drivetrain, which is a bonus, but we're proud of the product on its own merit, too. It really sets the benchmark high." 

Electrification is key 

Smith believes electrification in fleets is only set to increase and fleets will become more conscious of the role that EVs can play. "Increasingly, fleets are going to want to be able to offer the benefits of electrification to their user-chooser employees. I've been banging on about EVs from the moment I walked in this room, and we have other great vehicles too. But for a large population of them, EVs will be appropriate and they're not there yet. But our role is still to guide consumers into what powertrain is most appropriate for them now, whether that's petrol, diesel or electric," he says. 

Lazzari highlights that in the fleet market, there has been some nervousness about how important EVs are going to be. "That's because lots of brands, leasing companies and dealers are happy to stand back, not take the lead and see how much weight is being placed on these
new technologies." 

Leaf 1

But Lazzari believes the demand for EVs in fleet is now there. "We no longer have to push it. Now we approach potential customers and they're interested in the products. I believe we're here in the right place at the right time with this new Leaf."

Lazzari, who has only been working for the manufacturer for nine months, in his own words, came with the ambition to make Nissan a really strong fleet brand. "Within two weeks of joining, I found myself presenting about the new Qashqai and X-Trail, just on the back of  the new Micra. And now we have the new Leaf and NV-200 coming up," he says.

Lazzari says about the brand, "It's not just Qashqai, that's for sure. We really created a segment for a smaller, more compact SUV and it's core to everything that we do. But we have other models that will also be vital for those user-chooser customers, such as the Juke, X-Trail, Micra and, of course, the Leaf."

We mean business

One of Lazzari's main goals going forward is his 'we mean business' strategy. One of the key pillars in this strategy is dealer power. 

"For me, it's fundamental for us to deliver exceptional service through our dealer network," he says. "That's really easy to say, but really difficult to deliver, because of the multiple stakeholders we have in fleet, including large corporate customers, small businesses, rental, leasing companies and more. All of these customers need and deserve a great customer experience, so we need to be agile enough to meet
their needs."

426219565_White Nissan Leaf

A big part of the strategy is Nissan's 'customer first' charter, which includes the servicing and maintenance of vehicles during their life cycle. "It's all well and good for us to supply a vehicle and then walk away, but in fleet it's all about in-life service. That's why we're looking at goodwill contributions if the vehicle goes outside of its warranty, and we will make sure that, if it's been serviced in our network, we acknowledge that and support the customer," says Lazzari. 

The manufacturer is also looking at being quick to respond to service booking requests and will provide courtesy cars, so in the event that a vehicle breaks down, customers will get a quick replacement. 

"These things are all in motion, but it's absolutely around the importance of aftersales, not just in SMR, but also in the service of the whole vehicle aftercare,"
says Lazzari.

Thinking beyond the vehicle is a main focus of Nissan moving forward, as is its continued focus on electrification. 

Leaf 4

"If we think about the ongoing costs of corporate fleets and the rental market, it is vital to define the single biggest exciting thing on its way, which is the market for intelligent mobility," Lazzari says. "We talk about it, but nobody can define what that is, and we can see it through the Leaf, which we will use to develop a new strategy to think beyond the vehicle. EVs can help us to shape what this mobility market looks like in the future and I see them as fundamental to that. I'm so happy we're driving the EV strategy as, in my opinion, it's the future." 

Lazzari explains that he is looking forward to pushing Nissan towards a more profitable, sustainable business model. He believes that, very soon, company car drivers and consumers will start to think about the vehicle as just one of many different modes of transport, which will need to be optimised from a time and cost-efficiency perspective. 

"Time is something nobody has enough of, so if we can make cars part of a bigger mobility experience and enable drivers to be more cost and time-effective, we're onto something. In five years' time, I think that's an interesting concept and will help us stand out. We're already headed in the right direction."