Guillaume Sicard, the president of Nissan India operations, was in New Delhi this week to inaugurate the 160th sales touch-point of the company. In charge of both the Nissan and Datsun brands, Sicard says the company is on track to reach the target of 300 touch-points by 2016. He is confident that Datsun will make an increasingly important contribution to Nissan India sales volumes in the months to come. In an interview with Vikram Chaudhary of The Financial Express, he adds that both the Datsun Go and the Go+ will get driver’s airbag as an option in the second quarter of 2015. Excerpts:
Nissan India raised car prices earlier this month. Why?
The increase in our prices was mainly due to the withdrawal of excise benefits by the government. Earlier, Nissan had passed on 100% benefit to the customers.
You have phased out the luxury mid-size sedan Teana. This is the third product you have discontinued in India in less than a year, after the X-Trail and the 370Z. Does this mean Nissan India now wants to focus on the mass market?
The Teana has been phased out in India and we currently do not have any plans to launch the next generation. (Teana was a CKD.) Nissan India has a clear product strategy to introduce vehicles that meet the needs of the Indian customer. We have a strong global model line-up and, as part of our CBU strategy, we are evaluating introducing the right products which deliver more value to the Indian customer.
Nissan India saw a 23.3% rise in December sales over a year earlier. In fact, the car market as a whole grew in that month. Was Nissan a part of the momentum, or do you attribute this growth to any particular product or any specific marketing strategy?
We have registered a steady year-on-year growth for the past several months in sales, owing to strong cross-segment from both the Nissan and Datsun brands, offering distinctive, attractive and accessible products that fit perfectly into our customers’ everyday lives. Of course, the positive momentum of the industry helped us as well.
Are you hopeful of retaining that momentum as far as the January-March quarter sales are concerned?
With the new India business structure, we are undertaking major brand-building activities to strengthen our brand power combined with rapid network expansion and localisation, and we are very confident of maintaining the growth momentum.
The Datsun Go, clearly, didn’t sell as well as you would have expected. What do you attribute the reasons to?
A degree of sales ramp-up is expected while the brand becomes established in India. The Datsun Go as well as the newly-launched Go+ have been accepted well and have got positive reviews from various stakeholders. Obviously, we want to sell more. We are fully committed to further developing the brand, our retail network and our marketing presence. We are confident that Datsun will make an increasingly important contribution to our sales volume.
How hopeful are you with the Go+? How many bookings the Go+ has gotten till now?
As the Go+ was launched in the market just a few days ago, it is premature to comment on the numbers, although we have been receiving an encouraging response in the form of enquiries and conversions. The interest is more than we initially expected. We have priced the Go+ aggressively so as to make the product more accessible for first-time buyers. The price makes it a smart buy for customers.
The Global NCAP, clearly, targeted Nissan in India when it crash-tested the Go last year. What are your views on the “active safety” features the Go and the Go+ offer?
The Datsun models have been developed in line with local regulations, specific market requirements, as well as a very challenging traffic environment with a strong intention to deliver a package of best-adapted solutions to the local conditions. This package includes strong elements of dynamic safety, from best-in-class braking and good visibility to durability, and anti-fatigue features such as seat comfort and reduced motion sickness. The Go and the Go+ are fully homologated for sales in India.
As a company, we invest in continuous product and model line-up enhancement, taking into account market trends and customers’ requirements. We plan to offer driver’s airbag as an option for the Go and the Go+ in the second quarter of 2015.
Is the Redi-Go, which was displayed at the Auto Expo last year, expected to be launched within this calendar year?
We had announced earlier that we will be launching three models under the Datsun brand within three years. And we have already launched two models in less than a year. We will definitely introduce the third model within the next two years and will announce the launch timing as we are ready.
What is the total number of Nissan sales touch-points in India right now? Are you hopeful of reaching the 300 sales touch-points target that you have planned?
Our current network of 160 sales touch-points, spanning across 113 cities, retails both the Nissan and Datsun vehicles. We are on track to reach 300 touch-points by 2016.
What is the total number of Datsun exclusive outlets right now? How many more are expected by the end of this year?
The top priority for us is to take the Datsun brand closer to our customers. However, even more importantly, we want to develop our presence into tier-2 and tier-3 towns. We are now testing a new kind of Datsun 1S outlet concept in order to increase our retail presence nationwide. In the pilot stage, we have set up 16 exclusive Datsun 1S outlets and plan to increase them to 30 by the end of March 2015. The initial results are encouraging and we will certainly target 100 of those outlets by the end of 2016, doubling our country coverage to 95% of India within the next two years.
Which car do you sell the maximum currently?
As of now, the Terrano is topping our sales numbers among the Nissan-branded cars.
What is the latest news on the vehicle platform CMF-A. The chairman and CEO, Carlos Ghosn, had earlier said that the first product out of the CMF-A platform would hit the market by 2015…
The Common Module Family (CMF) is an engineering architecture that covers the Renault and Nissan vehicles, from one or more segments. The CMF approach defines vehicles as five essential modules: engine bay, cockpit, front underbody, rear underbody and electrical/electronic architecture. The compatible parts can then be assembled into hundreds of possible configurations, for maximum efficiency and brand differentiation.
The programme named the CMF-A covers the most affordable category of cars in the CMF, Renault-Nissan’s unique, modular system of vehicle architecture. Like all CMF categories, the CMF-A offers a high degree of flexibility. Significant body style and powertrain variations can be matched to specific customer needs and preferences in India and other high-growth markets. We will reveal further details on models from Nissan portfolio at an appropriate time.
While Nissan was still trying to gain a foothold in the Indian car market, it went ahead and brought in the Datsun brand. It is argued that you cannot build a second brand unless you have built the first. Do you agree with the statement?
I would say that both the Nissan and Datsun brands cater to different customer needs. The cars offer unique designs and different styling cues which appeal to different demographic segments in India. I believe that the launch of a new brand takes some incubation time.