Nissan’s electric shock
Every now and again carmakers launch a car they know will have legs in the fleet sector. Often it's the latest generation of a tried-and-tested favourite, other times it's something more leftfield that captures the zeitgeist.
So which camp does the latest Nissan LEAF fall into? Surprisingly, for what is ostensibly a mid-life facelift, this revamped model could appeal more to small fleets and SMEs than its pioneering predecessor. Nissan certainly thinks so and will be pulling out the stops to make sure its dealers communicate this message to their local business customers.
The new car is a cheaper £20,990 entry-point than its predecessor and now has the choice of three trim levels, rather than just one. By shifting production from Japan to Sunderland supply and lead times should be better too, while the tax position is now better, and you can lease the battery, Renault-style.
Jim Wright, Nissan's UK managing director, thinks all these ingredients will equip the LEAF with the potential to do well in local businesses, an area largely untapped by the brand's dealers who tended to concentrate on supplying vans to SMEs rather than cars. That's about to change.
‘In the past we've focused on SMEs with LCVs through our dealer business centres. We've talked about “fleet” in the past and they [dealers] have tended to hear “vans”.'
So why don't we talk about cars? It's a question that has been puzzling Wright and has prompted a new local fleet initiative that will introduce cars to the mix, especially on the back of the LEAF, a car he believes is ideally suited to short-hop local fleet work.
‘It's been a weakness in the past that we need to correct. We need to support dealers in terms of local business car opportunities. It's an imbalance that we are correcting,’ he said.
A valuable lesson Nissan learnt from the success of the Qashqai crossover, a sector it invented, is that company car drivers are increasingly likely to think like private buyers, with practicality and low running costs primary considerations.
‘If we have the right offer for fleet customers then there's no reason a user-chooser would not choose in the same way as a retail customer would chose a Qashqai over something that is more traditional,’ said Wright.
Indeed, as a fleet player Nissan is something of an oddity as it doesn't have a traditional product line-up, having long been absent from the small family hatchback and upper-medium sectors; anyone remember the Almera and Primera? Yet around 50% of Nissan's cars are bought by fleets.
Electric vehicles remain something of an eclectic taste and will only ever appeal to drivers with an open mind. For starters the claimed 124-mile range is based on a best-case scenario with a light-footed driver maximising on every opportunity to bank energy from the car's new super-efficient brake regeneration system. There's also the recharging network, which is at best fledgling and at worst woeful, although a saving grace is when you find a point the new model is quicker to charge than before.
Yet, for an SME, most of these counter arguments can be addressed by those businesses still able to achieve long term savings. Electric is not the answer to all our transport needs but for some it is a practical alternative worthy of consideration.