This month Steve Banner headed for historic Warwick to meet up with Stephen Kirk, business development manager, Nissan LCV and Volvo, and Ian Mitchell, commercial truck director for Volvo.
Selected Volvo dealerships are now selling Nissan light commercials alongside the Swedish manufacturer’s heavy truck range. How long has this arrangement been in place and which Nissan models are involved?
(SK) So far as the UK is concerned it went live in January 2008. It’s something that’s happening in 10 other European countries too. On this side of the Channel we’re supplying the front-wheel drive Interstar van at from 2.8 tonnes upwards, including the 3.9 tonne 16-seater minibus. We can supply six- and nine-seater Interstars too. Also available is the rear-wheel drive Cabstar chassis cab at 3.4, 3.5 and 4.5 tonnes. We don’t sell Primastar and we don’t sell the purpose-built pick-ups. On the Continent, however, we market Nissan’s Atleon truck which goes from 5.4 tonnes to 11/12 tonnes. We’ll be selling the new Atleon, which will be produced in right-hand drive guise and will be available as a 7.5-tonner, in the UK when it arrives in 2010/2011. It’s possible that we will also offer Nissan’s new NV200 van when it debuts, but that’s something to consider once we’ve established a better base for our activities.
Why has Volvo decided to team up with Nissan?
(SK) Nissan’s products complement our truck line-up. Volvo’s strategy is to go down to 12.0 tonnes so far as its own products are concerned, but at the same time we realise we need to be able to offer something lighter too. We have to be able to offer customers who require it a total transport solution.
How many UK Volvo dealerships also hold the Nissan franchise?
(SK) At present it’s five, most of which we own. Their Nissan outlets are in Glasgow, Coventry, Washington, Enfield and Avonmouth. We aim to have a total of around ten to 11 sales and service points by the end of the year, with locations opening in Bardon in Leicestershire, Croydon, Hayes in Middlesex, Milton Keynes, Edinburgh and on Teeside. In addition we may appoint some service-only outlets.
(IM) This year will be very much about establishing Nissan in our dealer network and ensuring that the customers we want to attract know that we have Nissan light commercials available.
Why should somebody who wants to buy an Interstar or a Cabstar go to a Volvo dealership?
(SK) Because of the high standard of aftersales support our dealerships provide. We can offer light commercial customers heavy truck levels of service. Many of our dealers open their workshops round-the-clock. Recognising that a lot of businesses aren’t purchasing vehicles at the moment, one of our dealers has decided to major on promoting what his service department can offer. His reasoning is that operators who get their vehicles maintained there will be so impressed that they will end up acquiring a Nissan from him when they do start buying again. He will already have built up a relationship with them.
(IM) Recently-published figures have revealed that big vans have the worst MoT failure rate of any type of vehicle on the road, at 44.7 per cent. By contrast, 90 per cent of the trucks our dealers present for a MoT test — 23,566 last year — pass first time. That’s the result of the high standard of maintenance they provide and their approach to preparing a vehicle for test; something that can benefit light commercial owners.
Clearly your dealers will happily sell an Interstar or a Cabstar to anybody. But what sort of businesses are you targeting in particular?
(IM) We have heavy truck fleet customers who also have a requirement for light commercials, but they’ve not really been touched by Nissan. They’re among the people we’re approaching; we’re mining our current database. Other potential customers include local authorities.
Go back a few years and Volvo dealers handled Mitsubishi Fuso’s Canter. Mitsubishi Fuso is owned by Daimler these days and as a consequence its products are sold through Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicle dealerships. You must have records of operators who bought Canters, however, so are you starting to approach them?
(SK) We do, we are and in fact we’ve just sold a Nissan to a former Canter operator.
Would it be fair to say that because of their commercial vehicle background, Volvo dealers are in a particularly good position to provide advice on specialised bodywork and conversions?
(SK) Yes. While many car and light commercial dealers sell ready-bodied vehicles such as dropsides, and we of course have access to Nissan’s Good to Go line-up, you need specialised expertise if you want something that’s non-standard. Our dealers are also well-placed to provide advice on tachographs and towing which gives us an advantage when it comes to talking to people in the construction industry who use trailers to move diggers around.
How difficult is it to persuade Volvo truck sales people to sell light commercials too?
(IM) The reality is that dealers can no longer afford the luxury of employing somebody who only sells new trucks to the exclusion of everything else. That’s because the profit margins in trucks are continually decreasing, particularly in the current economic climate and particularly given the volatility of the pound. As a consequence sales people also have to be able to talk to customers about contract maintenance, finance, driver training, telematics and light commercials too.
How many Nissans did you sell last year?
(SK) Less than 900 Europe-wide, including under 100 in the UK. The problem we had is that the economic downturn hit us just as we were putting our heads over the parapet. Some parts of the country went very quiet, very quickly. We chose the worst time ever to launch a new venture, but we’re nonetheless optimistic about Nissan’s potential.
How soon before we see an improvement in the commercial vehicle market?
(IM) We’re not anticipating an upturn until the back end of 2010 at the earliest.
(SK) It would take a brave man to be more optimistic. We’re being realistic.
(IM) But if the upturn comes earlier, then we’ll be in a position to respond. u