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NISSAN Australia’s newly appointed sales director, Ian Moreillon, has categorically stated he is not aiming for the Japanese brand to achieve a specific ranking in the marketplace – including a long-targeted top-three position – and that his goal is to simply achieve the company’s tightly held internal objectives on a monthly and annual basis.

In an interview with GoAuto, Mr Moreillon said he expected this year to remain “a very challenging environment” for the automotive industry and that his main focus as the new head of sales from June 1 will be to achieve growth during the current Japanese financial year, which started in April.

He said fleet sales would be “a continued focus” and that a key part of the strategy would be to build widespread customer loyalty, which in turn produces repeat sales.

Nissan’s sales are currently down 15.6 per cent this calendar year (to the end of April), with the 15,866 registrations placing it in eighth position among the leading brands.

Last year, the company also finished eighth with 57,699 sales, a 2.0 per cent improvement on 2017 but a long way from the 66,000-plus sales achieved from 2014-16 and the 79,747 recorded in 2012.

As GoAuto has reported, the Australian branch discontinued a number of under-performing models, sacrificing volume and its participation in key segments such as small cars as its looked to rebuild its business around a core range of profitable lines, mainly SUVs and the Navara ute.

Under managing director Stephen Lester, the company still has ambitions of a top-three position – indeed, he told us late last year that “we need to strive to be on the podium in terms of the top volume brands in the country, there’s no question about that” – but Mr Moreillon was more circumspect when asked if this was his goal as well.

“I’m not going to state any desire to be top three, top five, whatever it might be,” he said.

“We’ve got a business plan and the first box that we want to tick is to achieve our business plan. We communicate our business plan with our dealers so we are transparent in that way, we engage heavily with our national dealer council, which I’ve been an active player in and certainly will continue to be,” he said.

“So our first box to tick is to achieve success that we disclose with our partners, and where that places us in the market we will see. We can’t control competitor actions and what they do, where they might do something that jumps us in the rankings, well that’s up to them.

“We certainly don’t have an objective to be ‘a number’ (specific ranking) in the marketplace.”

Right Trail: Nissan will continue to rely heavily on its top-selling X-Trail to achieve its volume targets, with sales of the mid-size SUV up 11.8 per cent so far this year to more than 21,000 units.

Mr Moreillon said the company’s plan for the Japanese fiscal year was to achieve year-on-year growth and that “our first objective is to hit the number in each month that we set ourselves”.

“We have a plan in fiscal year 19 to operate in a manner that is consistent, is focused on customer quality,” he said.

“We need to build loyalty, one of the heavy impacts into loyalty is customer experience – referral, retention, advocacy, etc – that’s what we’ll focus on, that’ll deliver the results that are hopefully in alignment with our internal business plan.”

In relation to how he saw the market playing out for the remainder of the year, Mr Moreillon said: “The fact is that there is no reason to believe that the market will be anything other than challenging this year. Degrees of challenge? I’m not sure.

“I think 2019 will remain in a very challenging environment for the industry. It’s not just in vehicle sales, in the raw numbers, but it’s a challenging and a changing environment in what has historically been one of the contributors to dealer profitability – that being in finance – and that’s still evolving.

“How that part of the industry is addressing the change is still evolving. We’re seeing it – we’re seeing dealers who are still very successful in that space; we’re seeing other dealers who are finding it a bit more challenging in how they have to change their model to address finance and offer our consumers an attractive finance option.

“The other part of the industry is that we need to get better also in retention of our customers. I think that for many years the automotive industry – Nissan, certainly, but it’s not limited to us – we haven’t addressed the area of loyalty as well as we should have.

“One of the key opportunities is for us to maintain strong engagement with our customers throughout the ownership lifecycle, and then have our customers, when they come to their next purchase, come back and purchase another Nissan. And desirably staying with, and buying from, the same dealer as well.

Nissan Navara

“In that process, we need to get better at retention. We need to give our customers a very strong equation of service costs, and looking after their car.”

Mr Moreillon said there was a belief in the community that dealer servicing is expensive, and that one of Nissan’s challenges was to dispel this notion, which he said is not backed up by the company’s capped-price service program now in place.

“So we want to do better in that area: retain our customers, look after them, have them feel good about us and the relationship they have with the brand and the dealer, and then make sure that we grow our loyalty which in fact then grows our sales,” he said.

Nissan was the last member of the top 10 best-selling brands to introduce a five-year new-vehicle warranty, finally pushing up its coverage in April, but in terms of other new customer care and aftersales programs under consideration, Mr Moreillon said “there’s not a war chest of great ideas that are about to be deployed”.

“It’s one of the areas of the business that we will be continuing to focus on very heavily, and being aggressive in, to ensure that we have sales success,” he added.

And ditto for fleet sales.

“Absolutely, under my tenure, it will be a focus for us,” he said.

“Are we going to go out there and try and get every fleet deal? No, clearly we’re not going to get every fleet deal. But we will be competitive in the fleet space and we will use fleet as a method to achieve our overall objectives.

“It has a planned contribution. It is not anything to just go out there and blast fleet numbers out. It is a planned contribution to our overall success.”

By Terry Martin

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