In Talks With Thierry Sabbagh, Managing Director, Nissan Middle East

Thierry Sabbagh

Q. In your opinion, have buyers returned to showrooms and if so, how would you describe sales performance during a traditionally busy period such as Ramadan?

The past year has led to unprecedented times for the automotive industry globally. Ongoing restrictions and lockdowns have heightened uncertainty in the market for consumers looking to make important financial decisions like buying a car.

Regionally, this was the case as well when the pandemic started in 2020, however, thanks to the GCC government’s massive efforts to contain the virus through vaccinations and robust social and business parameters, there is a lot more confidence in consumers right now.

A study from management consulting firm McKinsey & Co, released in April 2021, shows that 74 percent of UAE respondents are optimistic that the economy will bounce back in two to three months and grow just as strong or stronger than the pre-Covid period, with 24 percent unsure and only two percent pessimistic.

In terms of sales performance, Nissan secured a year-on-year market share increase of 10% in the Gulf in Fiscal Year 2020 (April 2020 – March 2021) - fuelled by the strong sales of key SUV and Sedan models, especially the legendary Nissan Patrol.

In FY20, we also saw that retail sales increased as a percentage over fleet sales, but we are expecting the trend to go back to normal this year, where fleet sales will be higher than retail sales.

Moving forward into the new normal, we believe we will be seeing a hybrid, customer-centric approach to automotive experiences. The customer journey will start online, however, will end in the showroom as physically driving a car is essential to provide a true first-hand experience – test drives will continue to be a large part of the car purchase process.

As part of our efforts to cater to our customers’ evolving needs and provide them with a hybrid experience, we have digitalized the entire customer journey with an interactive E-Commerce platform including a virtual showroom and sales experience, door-to-door services for test drives, online finance calculator and pre-finance application, online car ordering, AI chatbot, and digital training academy.

In 2020, we also launched our [email protected] platform, which allows popular services, queries, and bookings associated with a trip to local dealers to be done digitally from the safety of a living room.

More recently, we launched a web-based Augmented Reality (AR) experience on mobiles and tablets that enables users to view cars, choose exterior colors, and read about the car’s key features via interactive hotspots at different locations on the car.

Q. How would you describe the buyer demographics for your brand and what steps are you taking to appeal to a larger audience?

Our large and varied line-up for the region allows us to reach out to a wide audience base. From affordable car seekers who have options like the all-new Sunny to those interested in luxury options such as our iconic Patrol, consumers looking for family-friendly cars can go for the all-new Xterra or adventurous drivers looking for a sports model can opt for our legendary GT-R – we have it all.

The range of innovative tech options available for each product is also in line with consumer demands, targeting different audience segments to enrich their mobility experience.

Q. Currently, what is your best-selling model and why?

Nissan’s vehicle line-up in the region continued to enjoy customer demand in the fiscal year 2020 (FY20), spearheaded by key models from the SUV and Sedan segments respectively. Dominating the SUV-F segment in the region, the Patrol generated a market share growth of 15.4% when compared to FY19, retaining its position as a major contributor to Patrol sales globally, as well as to Nissan’s overall sales in the region. The youthful yet functional Nissan KICKS continued to drive sales in the SUV-B segment with an 11% year-on-year increase in market share.

Meanwhile, Nissan Maxima and Altima were the highest-selling Sedan models for Nissan in FY20, increasing their annual market share by 33% and 8% within the Sedan-E and Sedan-D segments respectively.

Nissan’s FY20 activity in the region began with the launch of the all-new Nissan Sunny with a dramatic new design, spacious interior, new technology, and safety features. The all-new Nissan X-Terra 2021 was launched virtually in November, bolstering Nissan’s extensive SUV offering and addressing customer demands in the SUV-D segment.

Starting strong with the launch of the 2021 Nissan Patrol NISMO, this year is set to be an important year for Nissan in the region. The brand eyes further growth with three new models set to be launched in 2021, alongside Nissan Intelligent Mobility (NIM) innovations such as ProPILOT technology being introduced in the region.

Q. What is your take on electric vehicles, and do you have plans of introducing any to the market?

Ahead of introducing any model, including EVs, Nissan continues to consider market readiness and demand as well as infrastructure viability – in order to be able to bring the technology to the market. Nissan is constantly working to raise awareness about the advantages of electric vehicles, while also forming strong partnerships with key stakeholders in the Middle East.

Nissan remains optimistic about the future of electric vehicles in the region and we are excited as the all-new Nissan Ariya, our next-generation crossover EV will make its Middle East debut at Expo 2020 Dubai later this year. The Ariya is the epitome of our design and technology innovation and embodies our vision to enrich people’s lives, and we look forward to bring the future of mobility to local and international visitors as the Official Automotive Partner of Expo 2020 Dubai.

At Nissan, we are also determined to help create a carbon-neutral society and accelerate the global effort against climate change. We recently announced our global goal to achieve carbon neutrality across the company’s operations and the life cycle of its products by 2050. As part of this effort, our offering in electrified vehicles will continue to expand around the world, while we continue to drive innovation that enriches people’s lives as we pursue a sustainable future for all.

Recently, globally we set the goal to achieve carbon neutrality across the company’s operations and the life cycle of its products by 2050. As part of this effort, by the early 2030s, every all-new Nissan vehicle offering in key markets will be electrified.

Q. Has the entrant of new Chinese automobiles in the market affected your brand or strategies in any way?

The Middle East has a thriving automotive market with many brands operating well in the region. We value all other automotive manufactures as it helps to create a healthy market for competition, which drives Nissan to be better, more innovative, and deliver not only the best models possible but also the best possible quality of service to our customers.

Nissan benefits from its long-term presence in the region and is strongly embedded in the region’s automotive DNA. Iconic Models such as Patrol are being mentioned as being a family member by long-term customers.

Our diverse product offerings and Nissan’s Intelligent Mobility (NIM) strategy, which defines the way cars are powered, driven, and integrated into society, has played a large part in attracting target audiences across various market segments, who are eager for customized and futuristic experiences.

Nissan Middle East has also been able to overcome and grow market share by keeping industry-leading customer service at the core of our strategy – this includes the entire customer experience from the minute you decide to buy a car to purchasing to after-sales.

Q. Finally, what can you tell us about new models to expect in the near future?

2021 is looking bright with new and exciting launches in line with our Nissan NEXT journey – and we cannot wait to let our customers know what we have in store for them this year.

We have already kicked off FY21 with the launch of the 2021 Patrol NISMO and 2021 Altima ProPILOT. This year also marks the 70th anniversary of the iconic Nissan Patrol– for which we have a number of activities planned.

Furthermore, Nissan is gearing up to bring the future of mobility to local and international visitors at Expo 2020 Dubai later this year. As the event’s Official Automotive Partner, Nissan will draw on its expertise in sustainable transportation and smart-city solutions – while also unveiling the Nissan Ariya, its next-generation Electric crossover, for its Middle East debut.

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Nissan | Interviews

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