Nissan had a bumper 2017, with car sales hitting a record high of 5.82 million globally and its alliance with Renault and Mitsubishi helping it emerge as the world’s biggest seller of light vehicles in 2017, knocking Volkswagen off the top spot.
Yet Philippe Saillard, Nissan Europe’s outgoing senior vice-president of sales and marketing, believes the car marque still has a job to do on trust. He says while key brand metrics are on the rise, particularly in the UK where the brand is “more established, bigger, stronger”, it struggles to compete with brands such as Volkswagen on perceptions of trust and reliability.
“In monitoring of the brand that we do internally and with competitors, we see the improvement in the good opinion we are generating and the way we are more and more considered and credible in the market,” he tells Marketing Week.
“One of the things we still need to strengthen and improve is related to trust. When Volkswagen is monitored on the trust aspect, due to the heritage of the brand even with what has happened in the past it is still very strong. That is what we need to build on.”
Data from YouGov BrandIndex on consumer perceptions of the Nissan brand in the UK at least back up his comments. In terms of consideration, Nissan sits fifth in a list of 38 car marques with a score of 16.8, and it occupies the same position for purchase intent with a score of 4.1.
However, in terms of brand metrics that might be an indicator of perceptions of trust and reliability it does less well. On quality it sits in 14th position with a score of 13.9, while for impression it is 15th and reputation 17th. That is in marked contrast to Volkswagen, which easily beats Nissan on almost every metric despite the diesel emissions scandal a few years ago, although the figures were taken before the latest news about the company testing the impact of diesel fumes on monkeys.
Saillard says improving these scores is the big focus for the company. It has invested in improving the reliability of its cars and is working on strengthening the customer experience through a focus on its after-sales service in particular.
“We want this brand to gain trust by the fact that the cars are reliable and in after-sales the service that is delivered is at the level or above the level of the competition and expectations. That is what we need to capitalise on and that is what we are currently doing with quite good results,” says Saillard.
Key to that this year is the launch of the second generation of Nissan’s electric vehicle Leaf. This is an area where Nissan believes it has more heritage than other brands that typically produce an electric or hybrid version of a current model and so it is using the launch to not only communicate the car and its features but the Nissan brand and its ‘Intelligent Mobility’ philosophy.
“We have been redefining what Nissan Intelligent Mobility means and the new Leaf is the iconic vehicle that is expressing that for the first time,” he explains. “That means we are selling intelligent power, intelligent driving and intelligent integration.
“We are going to communicate on Nissan Intelligent Mobility. We do not sell an electric vehicle only, we do not sell the range details, we do not want to communicate that kind of message. Our message is related to driving comfortably, driving clean, driving safe and that is more the way we want to position our Leaf.”
These three business areas are ones Nissan will talk about across its product range. For the Leaf it means promoting its autonomous driving system ‘ProPilot’, battery technology that allows its cars to travel further between charges and a charging system that can sell power back to the electricity grid.
And it will be getting that message out through an integrated marketing campaign created by agency TBWA that will run across “all channels” including TV, press and outdoor, as well as digital, PR and direct marketing.
One area where Nissan won’t be promoting the Leaf is in its sponsorship of the Champions League. Instead, Nissan will continue its strategy of using the sponsorship as a brand platform as it looks to raise awareness in European markets where “it is not necessarily at the level of awareness of some other marques”.
UPDATE: 1 February 2019
Since giving this interview Philippe Saillard has left Nissan. He is being replaced as senior vice president of sales and marketing for Europe from today by Ken Ramirez, who is joining from Renault and previously worked at Nissan for more than 10 years from 2002 to 2013.