Nissan

Date: Friday, September 25, 2009

Steve Banner headed south this month to drop in on Tony Lewis, corporate sales director for Nissan UK, to find out more about the upcoming changes to Nissan’s entire LCV range.

When does the new NV200 van go on sale in the UK?

On 1 November. The first ones destined for Britain will be built in Japan. Production for the UK market will start in Barcelona by December.


How many do you expect to sell here?

We should sell around 500 from the start of November to the end of March 2010, when our financial year ends. In the following financial year, to the end of March 2011, we’d like to increase that to well over 1,000. Our aim is to be selling approximately 5,000 annually in three years time.


How big is NV200?

We think it’s a bit of a segment-breaking product. It’s got the footprint of a van the size of a Renault Kangoo — it replaces Kubistar — but offers a significantly larger 4.1m3 cargo area. That’s just 1.0m3 less than Primastar, but NV200 occupies less road space. What’s more, it’s got just over 2.0m of load length — 2.8m if you flip down the passenger seat — so you can get a couple of Europallets in. It will certainly appeal to people who run car-derived vans who want a bit more room, but it should also appeal to customers who feel that a 2.6 or 2.8 tonne panel van is just that bit too big for them. It will be ideal for many drivers on multi-drop work because the driver’s seat is set at just the right height to make it easy to climb in and out of the two-seater cab. What’s more, the cab has got 13 places to store oddments.


What’s the payload capacity?

It’s 750kg.


Which engine does it use?

It takes a 1.5-litre 85hp dCi diesel engine. I think that should be powerful enough for most applications — it’s got a good torque curve on it — and anyway we’ve got a 106hp version in the pipeline which should appear in early 2010. A petrol engine is available too, but we’ve not taking it in the UK. As well as the van we’re bringing in a combi version. We’re bringing in a seven-seater too, but we’ll be marketing it for commercial applications rather than as a passenger car. As for gearboxes, initially we’ll be offering a five-speed manual ’box, with a six-speed for the 106hp engine and a full automatic to come.


Who do you see buying NV200?

We’ve got a good customer base so far as small businesses and the self-employed are concerned, and there is clearly potential there, but we feel there is a good fleet opportunity for us with NV200 too. We have sound relationships with fleets so the fleet/small business split could be around 50/50, but we don’t want to do the sort of fleet business that might damage the van’s second-hand value. We certainly don’t want to get involved in distress selling.


What about alternative fuel solutions?

There’s been a lot of coverage of LEAF, our new zero-emission electric car powered by lithium-ion batteries. It goes on sale in the USA and Japan in 2010 and will be in dealer showrooms here at the end of 2011/early 2012. We’ve got plans to apply the technology it uses to commercial vehicles within the next few years — NV200 is an obvious candidate — and sooner rather than later. We’re also working on a hybrid version of Cabstar which should be available for production from 2012 onwards.


Nissan works in partnership with Renault and many of its light commercials are rebadged versions of models already sold by the French manufacturer. It’s an approach Nissan is gradually moving away from by developing a full range of LCVs of its own. So will you continue to sell Primastar, a rebadged version of Renault’s Trafic and Vauxhall’s Vivaro?

Yes, but we’re winding back our sales volumes because there is a crossover between NV200 and the lower end of Primastar so far as certain customers are concerned. You won’t see us selling the volumes of Primastar that we sold previously. We’ll do 1,100 to 1,200 in the year to the end of next March which is significantly down on what we’ve done in the past. In our best year we did way over 3,000.


You also sell a rebadged version of Renault’s Master/Vauxhall’s Movano under the Interstar banner. Will that arrangement continue?

The current Interstar will take us through 2010 and we’ve got plans to replace it with our own model developed under the M-Van banner. We plan to replace Primastar with our own model too. However, I wouldn’t see us having our replacement vehicles available until 2011.


Aside from the hybrid variant, what’s happening with Cabstar?

We’ve just relaunched it to our dealers with a new training programme and new advertising. It’s a model with significant strengths — at 3.5 tonnes it can offer a 1,800kg body/payload allowance and a 7.0 tonne gross train weight — but at times we’ve struggled to get people to appreciate them. Under our Good to Go ready-bodied programme it’s available as a tipper, a dropside, a Luton and with a fridge box and we’ve just introduced a version of the 4.5-tonner with a recovery body. We’ll sell about 1,000 Cabstars in our current financial year and around 300 to 400 will have Good to Go bodies; some of which will be bespoke rather than standard. We can of course still supply Cabstars with factory-fitted dropside bodies.


What’s happening with the NP300 pick-up?

Because of its cost base — it’s built in Japan — and exchange rate issues we’re running stocks down and we’re planning to introduce commercial derivatives of the Spanish-built 4x4 Navara pick-up instead. In the meantime we’ve got entry-level Acenta versions of Navara available and the equipment they come with is in fact pretty similar to the equipment found on a lot of light commercials these days. It is not the case though that we’re completely dropping NP300. Possible future changes to the exchange rate could make it attractive again from the price viewpoint and there have been a number of proposals to build it somewhere with a lower manufacturing cost.


Unfortunately, and unlike NP300, Navara isn’t available as a 4x2 or as a Single Cab, although it is marketed in two-door extended King Cab and Double Cab guise. So how hard have your pick-up sales been hit by the recession?

It has of course trashed the entire pick-up market. Calendar year to date Navara sales are down 44 per cent, to 2,700. We sold 214 NP300s over the same period, but by contrast that represents a 300 per cent rise!


Designed as a workhorse, the NP300 made its UK exhibition debut at last year’s British Commercial Vehicle show, so that impressive percentage rise is something of a statistical quirk. But no matter what type of light commercial they are selling, manufacturers rely heavily on their dealer network. How many dealers have you got?

We’ve now got 54 light commercial specialists and we’ve also forged links with Volvo’s truck network.


Five Volvo truck dealers hold the Nissan franchise too and it aims to have around ten to 11 sales and service points in place by the end of the year. So when does the next-generation Atleon light truck, which will be produced as a 7.5-tonner as well as at other weights —  the current model is not sold on this side of the Channel — appear in Britain?

At the end of 2010/start of 2011. It will be a great product for our Volvo partners in particular.


How soon do you think before the LCV market shows clear signs of a firm recovery?

Not for at least another ten months.


Has the scrappage scheme made any difference to Nissan LCV sales?

Hardly any difference at all. We’ve done a few Navaras and that’s about it.



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