September 29, 2011

Engineering a Sale

Nissan Global Media Center Interview with Chief Marketability Engineer Jerry Hardcastle

Q1. What does the role of a Chief Marketability Engineer involve?


The Chief Marketability Engineer is a completely new role that we've only introduced over the last six months. So, actually the role’s not fully defined but the basic point of the role is to match the customer’s needs with the engineers of the vehicle so that we can create more saleable vehicles. We already do that, with the Qashqai for example, a very successful model in Europe. Altima, a very successful model in the U.S., Serena in Japan, Tiida around the world, but we don’t do it consistently. Some projects are very successful and really represent Nissan’s brand, and other projects, maybe they are not as successful and maybe they don't match the Nissan brand correctly.

The global Chief Marketability Engineer and team is going to be looking at across all of the platforms, all of the projects and trying to find what are the absolute market requirements that the customers want with a car and then how do we deliver them consistently as a brand to the customer so that we can satisfy even more of those customers and get even more saleable vehicles.

Q2. Nissan’s Power 88 plans many new vehicles. How do you manage that with the need for market-specific tweaks?


That’s a good challenge, it’s an exciting challenge, certainly in Europe and I can speak for Europe with some authority. We are going to launch four models within a 12-month period, we’ve never tried that before so not only am I going to be a very busy person but everybody in R&D, sales and marketing, manufacturing, we are all going to be extremely busy.

It’s going to be a challenge making the correct balance. I think one of the challenges is every program is going to be fighting for everybody’s resource, which is good. Competition always helps to breed success.

The opportunity for us is thinking about this brand consistency if we are doing so many projects at the same time, now is the time to get that brand consistency, now is the time to make sure that as we present technology, like the combi-meter or the ride and handling performance, or the braking performance, is that it is consistent of a Nissan feel, the way we want it to feel for all Nissans, from project to project to project. And because they are all on top of each other we can quickly benchmark, check and compare. So, big challenge, but also huge opportunity at the same time.

Q3. Any earlier product launches that could have been fine-tuned for a better consumer take-up?


We’ve got a lot of examples in Europe where a car’s come, being developed very well in Japan, maybe for the Japanese market or in other market, but when they come into Europe, they don't quite have the performance that we would expect.

In particular, things like perceived quality, the European market is really hot on having high perceived quality, driven by the indigenous European brands. Also the ride and handling, the ride and handling requirements of Europe, for example, there’s one very striking difference that stands out, the autobahn. The autobahn in Germany where you can drive at unlimited speed on some sections, then you need to develop a car that can handle that kind of situation.

And it’s not just the ride and handling. Back 10 or 15 years ago, we struggled with wiper blades. The wiper blades were lifting off the screens because the cars were driving so fast. We’ve sorted those simple, basic things out now, and we don’t have those issues, but now we’ve got the issues where we really appeal to the customer, where we make the car have a secure feel but it’s still agile. It still reacts predictively, but its an exciting ride and drive. And they are the kind of challenges that we are going through now on projects that we are working on.

Q4. Do you feel you can expand your role to the electric vehicles sector as well?


Absolutely, I think there is a situation that we really don't understand completely at the moment and that is what is the customer expectation of an electric vehicle.

We believe we understand their expectation from a gasoline-powered or diesel engine-powered car, but when we offer them an electric vehicle with a reduced range, very quiet, also very easy to drive but different feeling. You get more road noise than you would get in a normal car - well you don’t get more, but you can hear it – these kind of issues, we need to understand the customer’s reaction to that but also the way they are going to refuel the car.

We know from work that we are already doing, that people like to drive electric cars when there are charging posts, to get rid of range anxiety. But we also know that they will drive to places where there are charging posts and then not charge the car, and they will charge the car at home. What’s going on there? What’s going on in their mind? Why don't they charge the car in the charging post? What’s holding them back? Are they worried about plugging the cable in? Are they worried about security? Are they worried about the cost of electricity?

We are selling the LEAF now, we are leading the market selling the LEAF, but at the same time we are having to research. We are researching doing demonstration programs, working with local governments and national governments and with the infrastructure providers and the energy providers, people we have never worked with before, trying to understand this big dynamic of how customers and electric cars, road systems and telecommunication systems, how they all integrate together to give an even better driving experience than can be experienced at the moment.