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Nissan ‘on plan’ in 2018

On the up: Nissan Australian managing director and CEO Stephen Lester says he is pleased with the company’s progress in his 11 months in the top job.

Mid-year sales dips aside, Nissan Australia boss says he’s hoping for growth in 2018

Nissan logo24 Jul 2018

NISSAN Australia managing director and CEO Stephen Lester says the company is tracking about where he expected it would at the midway point of 2018, despite a slight year-to-date sales dip, and that there is “a lot to be positive about” in the coming years.
 
Mr Lester is about to clock up one year in the top job at Nissan Australia after taking over from Richard Emery who made a shock exit from the company in late August last year.
 
So far this year, Nissan has sold 29,727 vehicles, representing a 1.5 per cent decline on the first six months of 2017. This comes after recording 56,594 sales last year, which was 15.3 per cent off the pace of 2016.
 
Speaking to GoAuto at the X-Trail N-Sport launch last week, Mr Lester said Nissan was progressing at the pace he had planned for and added that the company was rolling out new-look dealerships.
 
“I would say we are pretty much on plan,” he said. “Volume can always be better. The customer satisfaction scores, the dealers are doing a fantastic job, (but) like everything else, everything could be better. 
 
“We are in the midst of a massive dealership renovation cycle around the Nissan retail concept which is well under way. We have a lot going on in the business. And we have to be cognisant of all of those other things that are going on and keep pushing.”
 
When asked if Nissan Australia would end the 2018 calendar year ahead of last year’s haul, Mr Lester said: “The focus is always to grow. My bosses are never going let that be off the hook. It is up to us to find the ways to get there.”
 
The sales slip is largely on the back of double-digit drops from the Pathfinder (-18.2%), Juke (-52.4%) and GT-R (-46.2%), as well as a drop for the 4x4 Navara (-8.8%). 
 
High-volume models including the X-Trail, Qashqai and Patrol SUVs, plus the Navara 4x2 ute, are all in positive territory so far this year.
 
As GoAuto has reported, under Mr Emery’s leadership, Nissan discontinued a number of under-performing models, including the Micra city car, the Pulsar small sedan and hatch, the Altima mid-size sedan and the first-generation Leaf EV.
 
Without detailing what was in the pipeline, Mr Lester said the dealer network was excited about Nissan’s future product portfolio in Australia, but acknowledged that it faced a challenge by not having models in key passenger car segments.
 
“I think we have got a lot to be excited about – you think about the (second-generation) Nissan Leaf coming very shortly and the accolades this car has got, the three (N-Sport X-Trail, Pathfinder and 370Z) special editions coming soon. We have got a lot to be positive about,” he said.
 
“We are in all of the growing segments which is very positive. It is not ideal that we are not playing in a couple of key segments still, but those segments are continuously getting tougher. And as a result, we have opportunity I think in the segments we do compete in to continue to grow and it will be up to us to really make it happen.”
 
Nissan is yet to publicly detail its future model plans, but it is believed to be assessing the suitability of several global models for the Australian market, including the new-generation European-focused Micra and the Kicks small SUV.
 
If they get the green light, the Micra will be the company’s sole non-sportscar passenger car offering, while the Kicks would sit under the Qashqai, but be a more conventional crossover offering than the quirky Juke.
 
Mr Lester said he had made strong connections with the Nissan dealer network during his 11 months in the role, adding that he was committed to ensuring he delivers on promises.
 
“I feel we have made progress with the dealer relationships. Hosting national dealer council, rejuvenating some of the sub-committees to move things along. We have done a lot around business modelling for new models coming to Australia,” he said.
 
“I would like to think they are certainly trusting me now. We have built a philosophy with the dealers on doing what we say we are going to do. 
 
“And the clear understanding that whilst they may not like or adore me, we will strive always to do the right and the best things, and we will do the things we tell them we are going to do. And that is fundamental for me in terms of convincing them and building that trust with them.”
 
Mr Lester said he was pleased with the progress made on internal company changes implemented since he came on board, and praised the employees for their support.
 
“I am extremely happy with the team at Nissan Australia and how they have responded to a  lot of the changes that we have made, whether it is new people that we have brought on-board, or many of the existing and highly talented people that were already on the team. We have launched new internal governance models, launched loyalty programs, other programs you are going to see come to life in the very near future around key aspects of the business.
 
“So I am very happy at the moment. There is still a lot of runway to go, there’s no doubt about that. We are far from done. Just have to keep working at it.”

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