The Japanese brand broke new ground with the NV200 and continues to innovate with the addition of new models to the range. James Dallas reports
Every now and then a new van comes along that has the potential to change the face of the light commercial vehicle market.
In 2009 Nissan’s NV200 was one of these and What Van recognised its ability to sit between the light and medium van sectors by crowning it the 2010 Van of the Year.
The manufacturer has not stood still since then and this year wins the Editor’s Choice Award for supplementing the line-up with the electric E-NV200 and the NV200 Fridge Van.
Nissan’s corporate sales director Barry Beeston is delighted with the model’s continuing success.
“It’s a competitive market so it’s an honour our product is awarded,” he says.
Beeston points out that Nissan has ploughed a fertile furrow in crossover segments before with the Qashqai passenger car and is confident the NV200 will make just as big an impression in the LCV market.
It’s unusual to hear positive reactions to the credit crunch, which decimated new van sales, but Beeston maintains it did the NV200 a favour.
“It was in the right place at the right time, firms were downsizing from medium vans because they were not using their (load) capacities.”
He acknowledges vans such as the VW Caddy Maxi, Fiat Doblo Cargo XL and the new LWB Ford Transit Connect offer similar load capacities but says these are derivatives of smaller vans, unlike the NV200, which is a completely new model.
Beeston reveals that the next addition to the NV200 line-up will be a crew van, with two rows of seats and a loadspace. The current Combi version is available with five or seven seats but is not classed as a commercial vehicle.
“It (the crew van) will appeal to utility companies who need to transport people and equipment, we are trying to diversify,” says Beeston.
To this end Nissan launched a range of factory-built chassis cab conversions at the 2012 CV Show based on the NV400 heavy van.
The deciding factor in a conversion getting the go-ahead is return on investment.
Beeston explains that the development and distribution costs must be balanced against the volume return.
If the dealerships do not have enough space to stock a tipper, for example, they can source a demonstrator from the support centre with a maximum lead time of two weeks, although most would arrive within three days, according to Beeston.
He adds that of the 1500 Cab Stars Nissan sells annually 12,500 are tippers or dropsides with the rest being chassis cabs.
Nissan has 200 UK dealerships including 75 Business Centres specialising in LCVs, which cover 96% of the UK’s conurbations. Beeston says their two main functions are to “execute sales locally and to underpin the national fleet offering”.
The Business Centres offer operators out of hours servicing and a courtesy car, with eight able to facilitate 24 hour servicing, says Beeston. More commonly, he says, the customer will drop a van off at 5.30pm and collect it the next morning before their working day begins.
Nissan introduced the NV200 Fridge Van in September (the conversion was carried out by temperature control specialist Gruau) and expects the ready-converted model, which comes with a standard three-year manufacturer warranty, to attract catering firms, particularly those wishing to cut costs by downsizing from medium vans. The new model can refrigerate to 0°C and still leave 2.2m³ of pure load space.
Beeston says the Fridge Van will be on display at the 2014 CV Show to raise customer awareness of the model.
He admits it takes longer for the CV market than the car market to adapt to new products. NV200 customers are split fairly evenly between between SMEs and large corporates and Beeston says: “SMEs are more flexible, they can react more quickly to new product.”
Larger fleets, he contends, operate on longer cycles and only engage with new vehicles when the tender process comes up for renewal. Beeston reckons it takes 18 months for a new van to gain momentum.
The NV200 has now established a presence on blue chip fleets such as British Gas, Crown Paints and Irvine Construction.
Beeston says: “As a product develops awareness grows and larger corporations adopt it.”
Nissan is not disclosing volume forecasts for the ENV200 yet but is confident sales will ramp up following its launch in the second quarter of 2014.
“It’s important for brand acceleration in the corporate world,” Beeston says.
He cites the example of how the Qashquai SUV broke the mold in the car fleet sector, which was dominated by Ford and Vauxhall in volume terms and German brands with user choosers.
“Certain products can cut through that mind set, the ENV200 will do the same (in LCVs),” he claims.
Following its successful trial with delivery giant Fed Ex, Beeston says approaches for the electric van from large corporates, especially those with environmental policies, are becoming more numerous.
The ENV200 has a maximum range of 120 miles, which makes it ideal for organisations using vans on set, low mileage routes, Beeston says. He adds that with a payload of 750kg and loadspace of 4.2m3 it loses nothing compared to a diesel van.
The starting price is not set yet but Beeston claims whole life costs over five years will be less than those of a diesel model.
While plans for the crossover NV200 range continue apace, the furture of Nissan’s own medium van, the Primastar is less clear.
The brand has not decided whether to once more adopt a cross-badge product or to develop its own vehicle when it comes to replacing the van, which is nearing the end of its lifecycle. The current model is a re-badged version of the Vauxhall Vivaro and Renault Trafic, but while these two manufacturers have extended their collaboration for the next generation model – Nissan has opted out of the agreement.
In January Nissan launched a base-level version of its Navara pick-up, the Visia. Whereas the Navara is traditionally popular with owner/drivers and SMEs the newcomer “adds another string to our bow”, according to Beeston, by targeting the construction industry as an out and out workhorse. Like the rest of the line-up, however, it is only available in double-cab mode.
The Navara and the NV200 are Nissan’s best sellers on around 3700 apiece. Beeston predicts total volume of 10,800 units for 2013 – 700 more than 2012’s total.
He admits this “steady growth” of 6% is behind the market overall but argues that the main increases have come from new pick-up products, such as the VW Amarok and Ford Ranger, and in the small van sector where short cycle leasing drives volume and that, Beeston says: “We don’t do.”