Nissan: An eco-conscious fleet that’s kind to your balance sheet – Jordi Vila-Onses

With finance directors increasingly involved in fleet management decisions, questions of value for money and total cost of ownership are of paramount concern. Jordi Vila-Onses of Nissan explains how corporations' needs have shaped the company's strategy in the evolving international fleet market.

Fleet management is fast coming to be seen as the domain of the finance director. Against the backdrop of rising petrol prices and tighter environmental regulations, businesses need to approach their fleet-related decisions with a keen eye on the balance sheet.

Never is this more the case than when making the initial investment: capital costs must be weighed against the total cost of ownership (TCO). These are decisions that, one way or another, will impact upon an organisation's bottom line.

"We always take into account the finance director's view of the business," says Jordi Vila-Onses, general manager of fleet and light commercial vehicle (LCV) corporate sales at Nissan. "At Nissan, the key points we're looking to address are the TCO and the residual value as a key element of this, and we have a dedicated strategy to improve the situation."

Worldwide corporate appeal

For an automaker such as Nissan, the needs of the corporate sector are critical in determining its approach. As organisations become more eco-conscious and multinational in scope, fleet solutions must evolve to meet a raft of changing demands.

"We have a specific intention to grow in corporate sales, as a result of in-depth analysis," says Vila-Onses. "Nissan has spent time working out the fundamentals - our brand, line-up and a larger and better network. As a consequence, our share in Europe has grown in recent months to over 4%."

This figure looks set to rise further still. While Nissan's typical European share is currently around 3% of the fleet market, over the next three years the company expects to corner around 4.5%. Worldwide, its target is 8%.

"We want to achieve structured growth, based on some fundamentals," explains Vila-Onses. "Our aim is to deliver a holistic proposition that makes us competitive in the fleet market."

"The Nissan Micra 1.2 DIG-S boasts one of the cleanest petrol engines in the marketplace; it emits just 95g/km of CO2 emissions, sending TCO plummeting."

Nissan has a dedicated front-office team devoted to the task. Their job is to understand and rapidly deal with customer requests, while co-ordinating with all the company's regions across the globe.

As a Japanese manufacturer with numerous branches worldwide, Nissan is ideally poised to deal with multinational corporations. The company boasts a wide network of regional business centres, with a projected footprint of more than 400 in Europe alone.

"These centres have both a commercial and contact capacity for our customers," says Vila-Onses. "They deliver an excellent level of service, with extended opening hours and specific service agreements. We are also working on our internet excellence and marketing activity in order to enhance channels of communication with our clients."

Best-in-class cost-efficiency

In tandem with its competitive service proposition, Nissan's central aim is cutting costs while enhancing quality. In practice, this means both optimising the TCO of existing vehicles and ensuring that all new models provide the best value.

"From the outset, there is a discussion about what the targets for TCO should be," says Vila-Onses. "Of course, the vehicle must be desirable and convenient, but the financial equation is of primary importance."

Luckily, there is an overlap between what is best for the balance sheet and what is best for the planet. Because today's corporations are more environmentally aware than ever, it makes good business sense for car manufacturers to market eco-friendly vehicles.

This increased demand is not just a matter of corporate social responsibility. Clients have a monetary incentive too, in that 'gas guzzlers' are hit the hardest when it comes to the rising price of fuel. While upfront costs may be lower for such vehicles, their running costs mean that, by and large, they represent a poor investment for the future.

"Many corporations, private and public, have an increasing environmental consciousness and so lowering average CO2 emissions is in the interest of our clients," explains Vila-Onses. "Nissan has a strong commitment to sustainability. We have what is known as a 'blue citizenship' declaration, which illustrates our engagement with the needs of the planet."

This manifesto impacts upon all of Nissan's business practices, not least its production of eco-friendly cars. The Nissan Leaf, for instance, is a fully electric vehicle that was awarded the 2011 Car of the Year accolade in Europe and at the New York Auto Show, as well as an array of other recognitions across the globe. Soon to be available worldwide, this five-door hatchback produces no tailpipe pollution or greenhouse gas emissions while running, and reduces dependency on petrol.

"Nissan's vehicle line-up is tailored towards a variety of needs, with a diverse range spanning everything from LCVs through to pick-up trucks."

While for many fleet managers electric cars do not currently present a financially viable option, this situation is set to change. All projections suggest that, as time passes, electric vehicles will close the cost gap with their conventionally fuelled equivalents.

"Leaf is the cornerstone of our strategy," says Vila-Onses, "and all our activities support the introduction of alternative energy-powered vehicles. Our NV200, for example, which is a light van with a combustion engine, will also be fully electric by 2013."

Although alternative energy hasn't yet entered the mainstream, in the meantime there are plenty of other options that can help a corporation meet its sustainability and pecuniary goals. Nissan's vehicle line-up is tailored towards a diverse range of needs, with a range spanning everything from superminis and LCVs to pick-up trucks.

Efficiency is constantly improving across all segments. The lightweight Nissan Micra is supercharged for optimal performance, with the Micra 1.2 DIG-S boasting one of the cleanest petrol engines in the marketplace. It emits just 95g/km of CO2 emissions, lodging it firmly within the tax-exempt band A and sending TCO plummeting.

At the other end of the spectrum, the crossover vehicle Nissan Qashqai, which has over the years maintained a higher residual value than the segment average, now features a 1.6L diesel engine with a stop/start system. Producing 119g/km of CO2, it offers a dramatic improvement in fuel economy.

Continuous innovation

Nissan has more than enough incentive to keep innovating. "Public authorities and municipalities are putting incentives in place to facilitate the evolution of low-emission vehicles in city centres," says Vila-Onses. "We're well positioned towards achieving this, with a clear plan in place to become the best in our class in terms of carbon emissions over the next three years."

At the recent Geneva Motor Show, Nissan dropped a hint towards its future evolution in the form of the Nissan Invitation.

A progressive crossover design, the car is being billed as an upmarket, sporty alternative to the Note, similarly low in emissions, but with several added advantages. These include a round-view monitor safety system - a technological first for its class - and a dynamic, sculpted profile.

With some £125m invested in the project, Invitation is a key project for Nissan and production is due to start next year.

Future prospects, in short, are well tailored to the needs of finance directors that wish to manage a cost-effective fleet. All of Nissan's business activities are centred around keeping pace with market demand.

"Our range is very different to 20 years ago. While we still have traditional models, what differentiates us is our high capacity to innovate and create," says Vila-Onses. "We are trying to understand the key benefits to the CFO in terms of finances and efficiency, and we think we offer something unique."

Jordi Vila-Onses, general manager of fleet and light commercial vehicle (LCV) corporate sales at Nissan.
The 100% electric Nissan Leaf was World Car of the Year 2011 at the New York Auto Show.