Nissan MD West Europe: ‘We will be the smart follower’
Last week, Nissan presented its second full-electric passenger car, the Ariya. It’s also the sign for the new Nissan strategy to be developed. We had a brief virtual meeting with the CEO and COO and spoke with the newly appointed MD Nissan West Europe, the Belgian Koen Maes.
For Nissan, 2019 has been an ‘annus horribilis’ in different ways. The demise of the autocratic but also charismatic Carlos Ghosn, once the savior of Nissan, was a big blow; the sales and the financial results were also rather disastrous.
When it closed its most recent financial year (2019/2020) on the 31st of March, Nissan registered a net loss of 671,2 billion yen (€5,7 billion). That’s why it announced at the end of May a drastic restructuring foreseeing a 20% reduction in production capacity and personnel. The assembly plant in Barcelona will be closed.
At the same time, Nissan plans to sell 1 million electrified vehicles in 2023/24, compared to 200 000 at the moment. It just launched Ariya and plans to have seven all-new electric vehicles before 2023, primarily for the Japanese, Chinese, and European markets.
All in all, Nissan wants to launch 12 new models (electric, hybrid, and ICE) in the next 18 months. For Europe, the next Qashqai will be of the utmost importance. It will be built in Nissan’s large Sunderland plant, staying the most important bridgehead of Nissan in Europe, despite Brexit.
“Ariya opens a new chapter in the history of Nissan,” declared Makoto Uchida, Nissan’s CEO, last week in Tokyo at the launch of the car. “It will set the tone for a new era of future vehicles for Nissan. It unites our two biggest strengths, electric vehicles and crossovers.”
“With the Ariya, we combine all lessons learned of 10 years of Leaf. This car is everything combined. We offer D-segment roominess in a C-segment car. That’s why we also adapted the Nissan logo (digital, illuminated), referring to the sun, and with the hindsight that ‘there is nothing we can’t achieve’.”
“The Ariya is the perfect fusion of a crossover and an EV,” Ashwani Gupta, the COO of Nissan adds. “In fact, Nissan created the crossover and has been one of the pioneers of the EV. This now comes together in Ariya. And it adds the way to the autonomous car, and offers the latest in connectivity.”
“We learned a lot from our Leaf customers,” concludes Marco Fioravanti, VP for product planning at Nissan Europe. “We didn’t focus on what the competition was bringing; we listened to the actual needs of our customers. The differentiator will be the ability to meet customer needs better.”
A few months ago, the Alliance (Nissan/Renault/Mitsubishi) explained its new strategy. One of the key ideas was the leader/follower principle. Instead of competing for dead all over the world, the different partners will become leaders in some parts of the world and followers in others.
In Europe, Renault is clearly the leader, and Nissan will be the follower. “But we will be a smart follower,” says Koen Maes, the newly appointed MD of Nissan West Europe (Benelux and France).
“There is confusion about this leader/follower principle. Nissan won’t be a subsidiary of Renault here in Europe. Renault will be the bigger brother, Nissan will follow its own course. The target is clear: we don’t want to lose identity, but we surely want to bring the Alliance to a new level, so that there are no overlaps in investments anymore.”
“The Ariya stands on the CMF-EV platform, Nissan-based, but open for everybody within the Alliance, to maximize its chances. The Ariya represents (at the moment) the pinnacle of Nissan Intelligent Mobility, focusing on three pillars: intelligent power, intelligent driving, and intelligent integration.”
“Nissan will stay in Europe, for sure. We have a strong base in the UK with the Sunderland plant, the technical center at Cranfield, and the design center in London City. Those will be our antennas in a complex Europe.”
Of course, Brexit is a threat. Car manufacturers want stability, preferably without friction or restrictions whatsoever. So we surely don’t want a no-deal Brexit. Europe is a hybrid situation for Nissan at the moment.”
Nissan in Benelux and France
“The position of Nissan is fairly different between France and the Benelux. In France, half of the market is, of course, dominated by the French brands, but while VW has 7% of market share, Nissan had 4% not so long ago (and was situated before Opel or Ford).”
“At the moment, Nissan has fallen back to 2,5% market share, but for the French, our brand is still considered as innovative. With Ariya and other products, we will try to consolidate this and rise again in sales.”
“Of course, we are very pleased with the incentives of the French state (premiums) as of June. We already sold a gigantic bunch of Leafs last month in France. But let’s not be mistaken: the French market is still 50% diesel.”
“In Belgium, the fleet market is significant. That’s our handicap here. At Nissan, there’s a real aversion for the fleet market, and that’s because of the US experience. The fleet market there is different from ours, and requires huge buy-back initiatives, costing a lot of money. We are convinced that we can do better here.”
To conclude, I still want to emphasize that Nissan has been one of the pioneers of autonomous driving. From now on, Renault will be far more involved and maybe even take the lead. From a technical point of view, we can reach Level 4 or even 5 in the second half of this next decade. But there are som big question marks: what about the political and jurisdictional aspects and, even more important, how will the customer react?”