AM: Your predecessor told AM that a rise in registrations from 66,336 in 2008 to 152,525 in 2016 had put Nissan’s retail network under pressure. Does that remain a concern?
Alex Smith: I have come to a brand in really good shape. As a business, we have seen a dramatic recovery since the financial crisis, but one of the things that struck me coming into the job was a chart of Nissan sales, which showed just how meteoric the growth has been.
The scale of the business is no longer what it was five or six years ago. The important thing for me is that the infrastructure in the network is right for those new volumes and aspirations and that the quality of service is maintained for our customers.
I don’t see that as the network’s responsibility. I think we can streamline processes to make things leaner and more straightforward, so the network can do its job with fewer headaches.
AM: Will the changing demands mean the consolidation of a portion of the network into larger group ownership?
Alex Smith: What’s critically important is that we continue to ensure that customers receive the best possible service. It isn’t possible to change your ownership model to make that happen. We have well motivated, well trained staff in our dealerships and that is what matters most.
As long as quality customer service remains top of the agenda, we don’t mind what size of operation is running our sites. Many of our retailers are solus operators and they are often the ones with the best relationships with their local community.
What are the major challenges for Nissan in 2017?
Alex Smith: In 2017, there are headwinds that the industry will face in terms of cost base. It is important that we keep an open dialogue in terms of cost of franchise.
Is the market too volatile for us to set targets and forecast what we will do? No, but I think we have to be prepared for an interesting year.
Another challenge is how busy we expect to be. Micra and Note are being replaced by a car that shares little more than a nameplate with its predecessor and we have significant updates to Qashqai and X-Trail.
The intelligent technologies that the new Micra features are segment firsts, the perceived quality of the interior is superb and the range of engines is excellent. We have completely reset our expectations in the B-segment.