You head Nissan’s new light commercial vehicle business unit which was established earlier this year. Why was a unit dedicated exclusively to LCVs set up?

It’s part of a pan-European, indeed a worldwide, strategy. Globally Nissan has got a commercial vehicle business unit and that’s mirrored by a European unit based in Paris employing getting on for 20 people. That concept is now being cascaded down to the eight major European van markets, of which the UK is one. So what we’re doing fits with Nissan’s international philosophy and I genuinely believe that it’s the way to move forward in the light commercial sector. When you’re in our position the only way you can focus on the van market effectively and build sales is to have a separate operation that is not distracted by cars.


How big is your department?

There’s a team of seven people — eight including myself — and I report directly to Nissan’s UK managing director.


Who’s in the team aside from yourself?

I’ve got a brand manager who is responsible for marketing plus two product managers who report to him. One is responsible for the entire range while the other takes care of special conversions. His remit is to look at the opportunities for non-standard vehicles, determine where we need to introduce new products and work with local converters to develop them. Up until now we’ve sold very few conversions. That’s because there hasn’t been that much in terms of specialisation either at head office or in our dealer network.


So what do the rest of the team do?

There’s a field sales manager plus three commercial vehicle dealer development managers who report to him. Their role is a completely new one. They’re dedicated to LCVs and they work solely with Nissan’s newly appointed network of commercial vehicle dealers. Their job is to coach, mentor and motivate the dealers, ensure that they’re maximising the opportunities available to them within their local territory and see that they’re getting the fundamentals of selling commercial vehicles right. The development managers, for example, ensure that dealers have got the necessary demonstrators — they have to have one for each model in the range — and display vehicles in place. Bear in mind that a lot of the people the managers are dealing with are either new to the dealerships or haven’t been all that proactive in the van market before.

Is the new unit responsible for Navara pick-up?

It sits outside our remit because not all of the customers who buy it want to use it for business purposes. We’re responsible for Kubistar, Primastar, Interstar, Cabstar and the D22 pick-up, and in fact we want to differentiate between D22 and Navara as far as we possibly can. D22 is very much a working commercial vehicle; not the sort of pick-up that’s likely to feature leather seats and air conditioning to the extent that Navara does.


You referred to Nissan’s new network of LCV dealers. How many are there?

We’re aiming to appoint 40 to 45 or so. All existing Nissan dealers, they’re signing a new dealer agreement that specifically covers Interstar and Cabstar but they can handle the rest of the range too. Other Nissan dealers — we’ve got just over 200 dealers in total — can sell the entire light commercial range, but excluding Interstar and Cabstar. They can service and repair them, but they can’t do warranty work.


Do those figures include the Volvo dealers that will be selling Nissan light commercials under an agreement you have with the truck manufacturer?

No. Over and above those figures we’ll be appointing eight Volvo outlets this year. They’ll be selling Interstar and Cabstar — not the other models in our line-up — alongside Volvo’s own range of commercial vehicles. With them on board we should have around 55 LCV dealers in place by December.


Will you be appointing more dealers in 2008?

What we’ll probably do is consolidate and ensure that the ones we’ve got are doing the job right. In all of this we’re putting down the foundations for a three- to five-year plan. We know we can’t create a network and expect to triple our volume from day one.


Won’t there be problems if you appoint a Volvo dealer when there’s a Nissan dealer two miles down the road who has just taken the specialist van franchise?

No, because the Volvo dealers will be getting us incremental volume by exposing us to a market that we would not normally be able to access. They’ll complement the activities of our own dealers rather than act as a substitute for them. Our own dealers will go after local small businesses running one or two vans while Volvo dealers will be selling LCVs to those of their existing truck operator customers who need some smaller commercial vehicles.


How will the addition of Volvo outlets help when it comes to providing aftersales back-up?

Many of them open their workshops round-the-clock to cater to the needs of hauliers. That’s an advantage to our own dealers because if a prospective customer asks about 24-hour workshop opening, then the sales person will be able to tell them that this facility is now available in the network. That may help to close the sale.


How many Volvo dealers do you plan to appoint long term?

We won’t have more than 15.


Will all your dealers have a dedicated LCV salesman?

Yes, although in the early stages LCV sales people working at Nissan dealerships will probably be selling Navara too. That way the dealer will be able to cover their salary. Remember that a sales person who is going to concentrate solely on LCVs needs to be selling around 100 a year.


In total how many light commercial vehicles, excluding Navara, did Nissan sell in the UK last year?

Around 5,500 in our last fiscal year. We sold about 12,000 Navaras during the same period.


How many LCVs do you expect to sell next year?

We’re looking at a 22 per cent increase during our current fiscal year, which finishes at the end of March 2008.


How will that growth be achieved?

The dealer development managers will play a key role because they’ll be continually challenging dealers over their performance, not in a finger-wagging way but in ways that will help them maximise their potential. They’ll make sure that the network delivers. The breadth of the range — Kubistar, Primastar, Interstar, Cabstar and D22 pick-up — will help us gain incremental volume too. Some manufacturers manage to sell 20,000 to 25,000 units annually with just three models. We’re planning to introduce some special editions later in the year — we’re talking Primastar, with the stress on equipment rather than image — and that should aid sales. Something else that will help fuel growth is the expansion of our range of conversions. We’ll be able to tackle areas of the market where we weren’t previously present.


What conversions have you got in place and coming?

The line-up includes Cabstar tippers, a Cabstar with a box body and fridge conversions across the range. The box and fridge vehicles are being done by Northern Truck Bodies. Cabstar is produced as a dropside anyway, of course, and we’re taking a factory-built Interstar minibus.


Is there any reason why you shouldn’t market an Interstar chassis cab as well as the van? After all, Interstar is front-wheel drive whereas Cabstar is rear-wheel drive.

There’s no reason at all, but we’d have to consider how much mileage we’d get out of it given that we’ve already got Cabstar. The fact that we’re prepared to look at these things is an indication of how times have changed. In the past we wouldn’t have bothered so much about driving new product into the market.


Would you consider selling a Primastar pick-up? Primastar is after all the same as Renault’s Trafic and Vauxhall’s Vivaro aside from the badges, and both manufacturers market it with a pick-up body.

We’ve no plans. If we did it we’d be selling it through the entire network and I believe it requires some dedicated commercial vehicle expertise. That’s why so many of the conversions we’re introducing are based on Cabstar. Because it’s being sold through our specialist LCV network, we’ve got some control over what happens.


What are you doing about alternative fuels?

That’s something we’ll address in the second phase of our development. The first phase is more about establishing the new LCV business unit and dealer network, and building a solid platform for future growth.


What about adding the hybrid Cabstar exhibited at last year’s Hanover Commercial Vehicle Show to your UK range?

That’s not in our plans at the moment.


At present Cabstar goes up to 3.5 tonnes in Britain. Any ambitions to add the heavier Cabstar models sold in other markets to the UK range?

We’ll probably do so at the back end of this year and probably initially through the Volvo truck outlets. They’ll be the ones best placed to handle the early sales.


How about the Atleon truck, again sold in other markets but not at present on this side of the Channel?

Atleon will come here in 2010 when the new model is introduced. It will be available with right-hand drive.


You’re launching a new version of the D22 pick-up next year. When will it appear?

In April. It will be fundamentally the same as the existing product, but with new engines and some new trim.


Having moved across from Renault’s LCV operation — Renault is in the driving seat at Nissan — you’ll be well aware that many Nissan vans are in fact rebadged Renaults. When will the replacement for the current Kubistar — a Renault Kangoo under another name — go on sale?

Not until 2009, but it will be appearing at the Tokyo Motor Show as a concept in October. It will not be based on the new Kangoo that’s due — we won’t be taking a version of that — but will be a completely new product of our own. Bigger than Kubistar, NV200 will be about the size of the old Vanette. So far as I’m concerned it’s a welcome step because moving away from cross-badging will help us differentiate ourselves from the Renault brand. Having more of our own products over the next three to five years will help us generate more volume and make it easier for us to highlight Nissan’s brand values and ethos.


If you’re replacing Kubistar with a bigger vehicle how will you fill the gap that will open up at the bottom of your range?

Initially we won’t. Bear in mind, though, that many customers in that sector of the market are opting for bigger vehicles anyway, so I don’t think we should worry about losing business. And we’re not afraid the new van will steal sales from Primastar.