Nissan is overhauling its British retailing operation by offering dealers specialist high-performance, 4x4 (SUV), plus combined fleet and van franchises in a new strategy outlined to the network at a recent dealer conference.

The programme, masterminded by UK managing director Paul Willcox, aims to "secure viability and consistently high quality customer satisfaction levels" while reducing Nissan outlets from 183 to "an optimum 160 in the short to mid term."

He said a wider product range drives that specialisation, including 20 new model introductions by 2013, along with a more focused approach to fleet and van business at 60 joint sales and service units.

Willcox, Nissan's former head of European sales and marketing, said: "harmonising fleet and van sales plus aftersales offers economies of scale and formalises having 80% of fleet sales being channelled through 20% or 40 of our outlets".

He predicted that Nissan Finance would play an increasing role as a "captive provider of funds as corporate and retail customers struggle to find finance".

Expanding high-performance car centres from 12 to 25 by July during a recession was about: "anticipation and change to avoid destroying value and volume."

Although he refused to "be a hostage to fortune in the treacherous business of forecasting by predicting volumes" for the new 370Z sports car, Willcox said its GTR stablemate had generated 1,200 orders. The UK importer is "lobbying hard" for a larger allocation of the GBP56,795-plus (EUR64,168) supercar.

Willcox added: "Specialisation is as important to smaller dealers with five- or six-car showrooms as it is to regional groups. We need to be responsible in the way we manage distribution of a growing portfolio by specialising and avoiding driving costs up exponentially for smaller outlets."

Dealers must invest GBP60,000 in dedicated facilities and training for high-performance centre status and the GTR project's chief product specialist, Kazutoshi Mizuno, has inspected several of the UK units.

Willcox claimed UK Nissan retailers consisted of 60%, who "do a fantastic job as the network's strong backbone", 20% in transition or start-up phase, who will become "strong and vibrant" and the "20% consistent under performers" requiring help from an expanded team of eight business managers.

Willcox is aiming for top level network customer satisfaction ratings by 2013 with overall ranking among the top three volume manufacturers.

"If we can improve our bottom 39% of dealers in CSI terms then we will move up to being on a par with Toyota," he said.

Hugh Hunston