October 23, 2012
EVP Palmer: Autech’s Global Conversion
When it comes to planning, developing and manufacturing converted, specialty or lifestyle vehicles, as well as work-related autos, Autech Japan is Nissan’s go-to unit, with over 100 billion yen in sales in fiscal 2011.
Executive Vice President Andy Palmer spoke with the Nissan Global Media Center on Autech Japan’s potential for overseas expansion, as well as the subsidiary’s conversion role for NISMO.
Q1. How would you describe the relationship between Nissan and Autech now?
It’s been a long relationship and it’s been a changing relationship. When I first came to live in Japan in 2002, I was the program director for Autech Japan, so I’ve seen it through a number of iterations, and the ebbs and flows of the “Lehman Shock” crisis, and all the rest of it.
What I’ve seen coming back here today is an organization that has really
matured, and started to find its place in the Nissan hierarchy. We know that through Nissan Power 88 the brand is one of the key pillars of what we are trying to improve, and obviously the Nissan brand stands for “Innovation and Excitement for Everyone”.
What you can see Autech brings is clearly innovation and its association with NISMO, and now that Miyatani-san is the head of both organizations clearly that relationship is much stronger. Through the NISMO brand, Autech is contributing with the conversion and therefore will directly contribute towards excitement.
The most profound positioning of Autech is in the “For Everyone”. Now a car company, even one as big and powerful as Nissan, we can only cover in our wildest dreams 92% of customers and segments worldwide. There are segments around the world that are just too small for us to imagine entering off production line.
Taxi is a great example of that kind of segment where you couldn’t imagine putting on the production line a taxi variant. What we Autech allows us to do is to extend our coverage to customers that we couldn’t normally imagine to get.
We won the “New York Taxi” contract, but there was an awful lot of questions from the people of New York about if we had done enough for the vehicle to be accessible to less-abled people.
I asked Autech to mock up a taxi with its wheelchair access capability, and they moved heaven and earth, worked night and day, and were able to show us a demonstration of a vehicle that could give wheelchair access and which we were then able to go back to the city of New York and allow to be shown as an option that we had within our own capability that allows us to go to a higher population and get very close to that ” For Everyone” that is so embedded in our brand.
Q2. You’ve said speed and quality are essential to an effective conversion business. How does a top-quality conversion business contribute to Nissan’s bottom line?
There are plenty of converters out there that are quick, but very few of them on which Nissan would care to put its brand. The combination of speed and quality is the point that is unique, and it does allow you to approach things in a different way that perhaps you would never dream of, if you didn’t have the capability of Autech.
Through my career at (Global Headquarters), I often drawn of those skills of Autech to help us. When I was responsible for Light Commercial Vehicles (LCVs), the ability to make conversion is really the key to selling certain types of commercial vehicles.
When we look today, for example, at the launch of the new Caravan, one of the ways of extending the volume and the coverage is by looking at the conversions that Autech can do. They showed me today and extremely interesting example of a Caravan that had been kitted up to carry fishing gear. And why not? That means you can then go to a fishing competition and appeal to an audience that first of all didn’t think they were interested in buying a car and appeal, in an extremely innovative way, the merits of the vehicle.
So, that speed, responsiveness and creativity of an organization is vital for us. And the fact that Autech can do that with a great degree of quality is extremely interesting.
Q3. What are your expectations for Autech overseas and the conversion business?
It’s one of my challenges to Autech, and one of my reasons today for coming was to throw open that challenge. We’ve spoken about the merits of Autech from a speed and quality point of view, and clearly that capability helps us to sell 5% to 6% of the cars we sell in Japan, whether it’s the Rider version or different.
Now, if that applies to Japan, it equally applies to the rest of the world. If you say that as a company we sell 5 million cars around the world, if we can do an extra 5%, well, that’s kind of interesting, right? I think there’s a place for Autech capability to be globalized. I think examples in which we’re using overseas converters – New York taxi is an example, we announced the London taxi.
Those are examples of how not directly but indirectly the skills of Autech can come to play, particularly from the quality point of view – do you agree this is a good way to make a conversion. And perhaps in the future, even more directly those skills can be used. I do think there’s a global perspective to the way in which Autech can be used on a more global platform.
I’ll also come back to the relationship between NISMO and Autech. Nismo is going to be the centerpiece of excitement. We’re going to create the democratized AMG of the industry. We’re going to use the Nismo badge on our production vehicles – NISMO having all of the credibility of being a race-winning team. NISMO doesn’t have all the capability to do that itself. NISMO needs to have a converter to help it go, particularly, into the extreme versions of its portfolio.
Up until today, we’ve been using race teams, the likes of Ray Mallock engineering or other teams around the world. Now wouldn’t it be cool if NISMO could call on Autech, not just in Japan but other places around the world to do some of those works.
That doesn’t mean we won’t use Ray Mallock or Bravia’s engineering or Lotus in the future. But wouldn’t it be cool if we could, in some cases, call upon Autech to be a natural converter. And that’s somewhere that I’d like to see Autech in the future – being the converter of choice for NISMO.