We had a 1 hour long roundtable interview with Christian Mardrus – Senior Vice President and Chairman of the Management Committee for Africa, Middle-East and India (AMI) at Nissan’s headquarters in Yokohama, Japan. Here is a summary from the interview.

Christian Mardrus Interview
Christian Mardrus with online journalists from India at the Nissan Gallery in Yokohama

1) On India’s importance for Nissan – India is very important for Nissan and the company is here for the long haul. India for Nissan is a mid and long term strategy. The Indian market has huge potential and is growing at a fast pace, set to hit 5 million units per annum by the end of this decade. Growth in the AMI region has very high potential and there are four business units of Nissan present in this region. India will be among the top automotive markets in the world in the future.

2) On what Nissan stands for – Nissan has two brands – Nissan and Datsun and while the latter’s positioning is clear as an emerging market specific brand (Datsun is to Nissan what Dacia is to Renault), Nissan wants to be a brand which lives up to its tagline – ‘Innovation that excites’. Although not there yet, Nissan will adapt to the market. Nissan was the first brand to offer push button engine start/stop in the Micra and plans to offer such first in segment features (the Micra is the only hatchback to come with side airbags currently and the Terrano has more features than the Duster). Datsun is a smart buy which has features and performance which other brands lack at this price point, thus Datsun is innovation in positioning and doesn’t have any direct competition.

3) On Nissan’s future plan – Nissan is working on a focussed plan for India. India specific models aren’t planned but global models will have India centric features. Models to have global genes as similar type of customers in other countries too have the same needs. Thus features and requirements of India will come to global markets. Like young customers have high aspiration and with the economy growing there is a feeling of optimism (people are willing to invest). Halo models to be launched for brand awareness and not just one but more than one model could be launched (perhaps the GT-R and Leaf).

4) On the next generation Micra – Export production will be shifting from the Chennai plant to France for the all new Micra. Thus there will be a decrease in Micra production in India but Nissan doesn’t want to rely on exports alone and needs to be competitive in the domestic market. Currently it is number three in production in India and exports has helped it get economics of scale. The Indian plant will become more competitive with improved total delivery cost and more models will be produced, serving the AMI region (and could also be launched locally), thereby the Chennai facility can be a huge source factory.

5) On challenges being faced in India – The Indian market likes new models at a rapid pace which Nissan hasn’t been able to do as it’s not easy. The market is tough and tight and very few global OEMs are doing more than 5% market share. If one isn’t in India, then they can’t understand what customers need. India likes dual-tone, touch-screen and some features and characters Nissan needs to better understand. Style is very important.

6) On segments Nissan will enter – The crossover segment is expanding and Nissan will be aggressive in this space with new launches. The company expects growth in new segments. The sub 4-metre segment is quite important and the importance of the traditional sedan is decreasing. Nissan won’t innovate new segments but will focus on the value they bring to customers. Value in terms of style, image, etc. which is not only for the customer but also the environment (hint EV). Nissan will sell two types of models – core which will get them numbers and opportunities which will sell in limited numbers but bring visibility.

7) On entering the compact sedan segment – Choices have to be made. Nissan won’t enter all segments but the segments they will enter, they will make an impact by attacking key markets and key segment. Not yet decided on the compact sedan segment.

8) On customer satisfaction – Working on improving customer service. Already gone from 9th to 3rd in the J.D. Power Asia Pacific 2015 India Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study. Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) and Sales Satisfaction Index being surveyed every month. In India, customer satisfaction is very important and the reputation of brand is extremely important. It’s a constant effort which Nissan has committed to.

9) On safety – There is no doubt or question on safety of Nissan cars but there was on Datsun cars. Safety is of prime importance and Datsun is offering a driver side airbag on both the GO and GO+ while most Nissan cars come with the same.

10) On the recent job cuts – It’s a temporary production adjustment. The industry is cyclical and such adjustments are needed to cater to customer needs.

11) On Nismo – No plans to launch the Nismo brand in India in the immediate future (no plans for Infiniti either). No decision has been reached yet.

12) On alternative fuels – CNG or no CNG is a question Nissan is debating with. Most dealers are asking Nissan for CNG and the company is yet to make a decision.

For those of you wondering what Christian drives? He drives a Nissan Fuga (a Toyota Crown rival which sits above the Teana and Camry) in Japan and a Infiniti QX70 (a crossover which rivals the BMW X5) in France.

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