View from the top: Alex Smith, MD, Nissan UK
With 2016 sales growth largely driven by new LCV launches, communication will be key as Nissan begins this year with a reinvention of one of its most important nameplates and expansion of its specialist Business Centre network. By Alex Grant.
How did 2016 shape up for Nissan in the UK?
It was a good year: 2016 in the UK was our eighth consecutive year of growth with just over 168,000 registrations, which is a really strong performance. Being the fastest-growing LCV manufacturer was really important, it was a great year for LCVs driven by success of new Navara which got off to a flyer: number two for the year and number one in December. On the LCV side we also introduced NV300, which was important to get Nissan back into the mid-size van area, the largest segment of the van market. It was good to get a product launch at the back end of the year.
We made good inroads in 2016. We’ve invested heavily in people and have a fleet department that’s just north of 50 people, all of them experts in their field. We’re looking to continue to let more people in the UK fleet market know about our capabilities, our range, our confidence in our product and the way we can assist people in running an efficient, safe and environmentally sustainable fleet.
How is the EV market progressing in the UK?
With LEAF and e-NV200 we hold leading positions in terms of the pure EV market. Our share of pure electric in the UK last year was 49.4%, and LEAF is really encouraging in its progress; not just through the sales volume but what we’ve seen over the last three or four months is, as EVs are becoming better understood and more accepted, there has been residual value improvement as well. I think that’s important.
The other thing we see on LEAF is it has our highest renewal rate. When people buy LEAF they really buy into it, and the propensity to come and have another one is higher than on any of our other products. Adoption of pure EV is increasing, that’s a good thing, but what’s also of massive importance is those who have owned LEAF have enjoyed ownership and are coming in to have another one.
What are you planning for 2017?
In the dealer network we’ve got a couple short of 60 Business Centres at the moment, we think the right number for the UK is 70 so we’ve got a little bit of development to do. We need a little more geographic coverage but the depth of expertise we have already is a reason to be confident about 2017.
We’re feeling good about the launch of the all-new Micra. We maybe haven’t been fully represented in the core of the B-segment for a few years, and it’s still very important. Yes, the majority of the B-segment is retail, but there’s still a significant fleet volume. There are things that will really appeal to user-choosers and to fleet managers: in particular the fantastic safety systems the vehicle has. I think we’ve got segment first in terms of lane departure warning and intervention and intelligent emergency brake with pedestrian recognition. Those I think are tremendously valuable pieces of technology that start on the base grades, and I think that will be hugely appealing.
Also, if you look at development in the fleet market, the selections being made by user-choosers are more than ever distinctive personalised choices. There’s more fragmentation in terms of products within segments and the propensity to choose from different segments as well. We serve that part of the market really well as we’re very competent at crossovers. It’s very important that we speak to as many people as possible to explain what Nissan is, what we offer through the product and what Nissan can offer through its services.
How much do you see the fleet customer base changing for the new Micra, compared to the outgoing car?
When we look at current Micra and all new Micra it’s a tremendous leap forward in so many ways. The old Micra also was conceived as a global product, that was dimensionally somewhere near the bottom of the B-segment. This is absolutely in the heart of the B segment, and in terms of the styling it’s bold, audacious and eye-catching.
So in terms of the current Micra’s penetration into the fleet market, for us that’s not the benchmark. When we’re assessing the potential of this product, the previous generation isn’t the place to look. Competitors at the core of the B-segment is the place to look. The safety technology in the car makes it a very rational choice as well as one which is emotionally appealing.
With that in mind, did you ever consider renaming it?
Personally, I’m delighted it’s called Micra. The nameplate recognition of the words ‘Nissan Micra’ in the UK is huge. This is a car that, in its heyday, sold over 50,000 vehicles per year, which was over 50% of Nissan sales. Over three decades it has built up a huge amount of nameplate recognition and affection with the UK car buying public. That’s a very valuable thing to have.