With ten new models coming, Nissan’s future is bright according to Canadian President Steve Milette
Nissan has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons over the past year or so, from lagging sales to a leadership scandal that has all of the makings of a Hollywood thriller. I sat down with Nissan Canada President Steve Milette during the Canadian International Autoshow media preview to get his take on the company’s direction.
GG: Nissan clearly has had their challenges in the past couple of years. How much of that can be contributed to the Ghosn situation and to a lesser extent, Hiroto Saikawa and more importantly is Makoto Uchida going to be able to turn the ship around?
SM: “To be honest with you, I spend about zero per cent of my time on those issues happening at the very highest levels. The one thing that we do do, is that we do have about 7,000 dealer personnel across the country. Obviously they are not as close to the Nissan internals as we would be. We spend a lot of time communicating with our dealer council. Actually, we started last week with a cross country tour, taking a break this week for the Autoshow, and then we are continuing next week. We are going to meet with every dealer and we share with them our vision for 2020 and beyond. They’ve all seen what’s going to happen over the next 20 months and they are super excited. It’s just to keep the focus on what we control, the operations. What happens at the higher levels, I spend no time on.”
GG: I saw a quote in the New York Times from CFO Stephen Ma that said “Unlike in the past, we’re not chasing market share. We’re not chasing volume. The most important thing for us right now is business fundamentals.” He was referring to the U.S. market. Does that sort of fit with what you are needing to focus on?
SM: “Absolutely, it is definitely true. The term we use is quality of sales. To set up a quality business, a sustainable business, we have to do things differently than perhaps in the past. His quote probably relates specifically to rental volume. There was higher rental volume in the U.S. Certainly in Canada, when you see that we are down month over month, like in the last 9-10 months, it’s that we’ve taken drastic measures to reduce rental volume. We’ve reduced rental volume by a third. Our retail business also went down, but not to the same degree. When we go into 2020, that negation of rental business will even out and we’ll be measured really on true retail numbers. Internally, we focus on the pure retail business. What’s released to the media is one thing, we sorta have to put colour around it, but what we celebrate is increasing market share on a purely retail basis.”
GG: Product obviously has been a big part of the challenge, from aging models to, what a lot of people consider to be a lack of innovation. How do you see that we got here?
SM: “I can’t speak to the how we got here, but obviously the age of the product that we currently have is amongst the oldest in the industry. I think that’s a fair statement. It will also be renewed fairly quickly. It will go from the oldest to the very youngest in a relatively quick time.”
“What we have shared with the dealers is ten new models in twenty months and it’s all the core segments. Looking ahead, those statements that you made won’t be true. How we got here, that’s behind us. Going forward, ten new models in twenty months. We launched Titan, which is relatively small volume here in Canada, Sentra, which has potential for huge volume and here today we’ve launched Versa and there is more to come.”
GG: I mean, you’ve got Titan and Frontier you’ve put the new engine in it, but it’s still that same truck.
SM: “We’ve put the new powertrain in that bodystyle, but we did signal that there is a new body style that is coming out very shortly. It is very exciting. When we showed the dealers the product, they were very excited about the future. Of all the products that we’ve showed them, I mean they were excited about everything, but the Frontier, which they’ve had the benefit of seeing, was the one that tickled them the most. They were extremely pleased with what they saw.”
GG: Nissan was at the forefront of EV with Leaf and it seems to have kind of lost some of that mojo I think, at least outside of Canada. Here, I think you’ve used it as a powerhouse for marketing. How are we different? Is it the Quebec market that is different for it?
SM: “What’s interesting with Leaf to be honest is that we spend very little money on marketing. It’s a grassroots demand. There is very strong organic demand for the vehicle. We have a very progressive government, both provincial and federal. I think those credits have tuned the customer base into EVs. Leaf itself has very high success in the Quebec market for sure. It is the powerhouse for us in Canada and very strong in British Columbia. They too have credits, but there is a very strong natural demand in British Columbia.”
“The future is very bright, I mean if you’ve seen the Ariya concept, which was very positively received at launch. What I can say is that that vehicle is very close to what the production vehicle would look like. When we say ten new products in twenty months, you can probably read between the lines. We are investing in EVs. We want to be successful in EVs. The future is bright in EVs and certainly for Nissan. It is going to be a growing part of our portfolio for sure.”