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Prepare for brand new customers

Nissan dealers are being trained to cope with a new type of customer – one who is attracted to the brand by niche products like the 350Z sportscar and the Murano sports utility vehicle, due next year.

These first-time Nissan buyers have different needs and expectations to existing customers, according to Nissan GB managing director Bill Bosley.

That challenge comes as Nissan withdraws from the daily rental business in favour of private retail sales and corporate contracts, a process which started in January. Dealers will be charged with maintaining volumes to around105,000 (2003: 105,798). "Next year we will look for growth," he adds.

Bosley, who joined Nissan GB from Nissan North America just under four months ago – replacing Brian Carolin, appointed to Nissan Europe – has identified clear opportunities to grow the business in the car, LCV and pick-up truck markets. Next year will see four launches, including the Micra C+C and the Murano. The Qashqai compact crossover concept, shown at this year's British motor show, could also make it into production depending on public reaction.

“We have plans to build the Nissan brand and the challenge for dealers will be to focus on the quality of customer service as their expectations change,” says Bosley. “They need to be ready for the new products which will attract new customers – it will be vital to give them a good experience.” Frequent and ongoing communication with the retail network will be crucial: Bosley points out dealers have many good ideas about improving the business. "We have to weave together their ideas and our thoughts," he adds.

A further challenge will come from aftersales servicing and repair, which will increase demands on the 227 dealers as new car sales grow. Some of the additional workload will be absorbed by authorised repairers – Nissan is still sifting through applications – while 20 to 25 dealers will be added to the network over the next year or so, with the emphasis on existing partners expanding their businesses into adjacent open points.

Bosley, who spent the past 23 years in various roles at Nissan North America, is still assessing the wholly-owned Aprite network, which has 10 sites, including hubs in Manchester and Birmingham.

"I am looking now at how this business fits into our strategy and how we can use it to our advantage,” he says, adding: “We certainly get some real direct feedback!" One option is to use the network to test-bed new ideas, such as new sales processes, in a real life environment before they are rolled out to the rest of the retail network.

So what's been the biggest challenge for Bosley moving across the Atlantic? “I had no knowledge of the business here beforehand so I had to do a lot of cramming,” he says. "The cultures are similar but there are subtle differences. When I came over I was asked what car I wanted – a Patrol. Then what colour – white. That raised eyebrows: in the US white is the most popular colour, but in the UK it's the most unpopular. My next car will be dark green."

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