Compared to its American manufacturer counterparts, Nissan is an upstart in the world of fleet — the automaker launched its first true commercial vehicle in the U.S. in January 2011 with the Nissan NV van.
Nissan complemented its van lineup in 2013 with the release of the Nissan NV200 small van, while last year the manufacturer launched the Nissan Business Certified program directed at small fleets.
Business Certified is a dealer-based commercial incentive program that provides commercial customers with fleet pricing, an upfit incentive program, priority service at Business Certified dealers and managers dedicated to commercial accounts.
Nissan empowers its Business Certified dealers with incentives that must be contractually passed on to its commercial customers. Dealers can offer greater incentives to fleets purchasing more than 15 units and to companies that are part of a franchise system.
The Commercial Upfit Incentive Program allows clients to choose a cargo management system from Adrian Steel, a graphics package or cash back.
To join the Nissan Business Certified program, dealers must satisfy product and service requirements that benefit the end user, says Mark Namuth, Nissan’s senior manager for fleet and commercial sales. Those requirements include providing dealer inventory on the full Nissan commercial lineup: the Nissan NV and NV200 in cargo and passenger models in both heights and various GVWR iterations.
Business Certified dealers must also have a dedicated service bay with the requisite height and service lift to maintain commercial vehicles, along with trained technicians available specifically to fleet customers.
Other program highlights include special commercial lending programs with available lines of credit and a TRAC lease, 24-hour towing with roadside assistance, which includes trip interruption reimbursement on select models, complimentary shuttle service and available demonstrator vehicles.
Based on service visits, clients also receive points to redeem on vehicle purchases or at retailers such as Home Depot.
If this sounds familiar to other manufacturers’ fleet dealer programs, it’s designed that way. “We benchmarked the competition when we started our commercial business,” says Namuth. “We laid out the blueprint for our dealers to follow, which became the Business Certified program.”
Because Nissan’s national corporate fleet team is smaller than the competition’s, it focuses on larger accounts. As a result, “We’re looking to our dealerships to provide sales to accounts buying one and two vehicles, as well as those buying 10 to 20,” Namuth says.
Out of Nissan’s roughly 1,100 U.S. dealers, 397 are part of the Business Certified program. Namuth says Nissan will add 50 to 100 more dealers to the program in the next two years.
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Business Certified dealers are also required to have a commercial vehicle account manager — or “c-vam” in fleet parlance.
Luke Moore, commercial vehicle account manager for Advantage Nissan in Bremerton, Wash., had worked in a retail capacity at the dealership when he left for a military tour of duty in the Middle East. Upon return, he was tapped to head the fleet department. “Going from retail to fleet, it is 180 degrees different,” he says, citing the long-term relationships in fleet and avoiding the hassle of haggling on each transaction.
Moore says Advantage Nissan sells a lot of NV vans to HVAC companies and government contractors that supply the numerous military bases in the area. The most common service van iteration is the half-ton 1500 with the low roof, which maneuvers through drive-throughs and parking garages, he says.
In terms of incentive choices, “99% take the racks,” Moore says.
For Moore’s established clients, a sale often starts with a simple “I need a van” text message and ends with the vehicle and paperwork delivered directly to the client’s business.
Often, the relationship takes on a more consulting capacity. For new customers, Moore does a fleet analysis at the business, which entails spec’ing vehicles based on route types, trip lengths, cargo types and available vehicle choices. “It all boils down to efficiency and saving the business owner money,” he says.
Sometimes that relationship goes above and beyond. When a locksmith company came to Moore for an NV200 rack and bin package that could not be satisfied through Business Certified’s standard channels, he worked with another upfitter to adapt one to the NV200. “I researched it; I spec’d it and I worked hand-in-hand with the upfitter to create it,” he says.
A pillar of the Business Certified program is service, and Advantage Nissan has a demonstrator van available to clients if one of theirs goes down. Ironically, however, clients haven’t needed to take him up on the offer beyond normal service intervals. “I’ve only had one van go down so far,” he says.
Inventory is Essential
Scott Foy of Vacaville Nissan (Calif.) was also hired to start the commercial department at the dealership, though he came from a fleet background at the dealer level from another manufacturer.
“My first day (with Nissan), all I had was a van and a brochure,” Foy says. “It was a very tough sell in the beginning, trying to explain to someone they should stop buying what they have now and buy something no one has heard of, let alone driven.”
To get the word out, Foy initially brought the new vans into the field to events, home improvement retailers and companies with fleets. The product spoke for itself, and sales ramped up steadily with familiarity, Foy says.
To prevail in fleet, Foy says the primary investment at the dealership should be with the commercial vehicle account manager. “It starts with having a solid commercial guy who has a repeat book of business; someone who can get the financing done and get [the vehicles] upfitted and delivered to their shop,” he says.
Similar to Moore, “When I get a customer I’ve never sold to before, I ask a lot of questions,” Foy says. “We treat it as if they have no time to spend on this; that’s our job.”
Foy also says his clients haven’t had any major maintenance issues, which isn’t entirely surprising: “The very first customers we sold to are hitting 80,000 to 100,000 [miles] now,” he says. “I’ve never even had a trade-in yet.”
In terms of client type, it runs the gamut. Foy’s recently sold list includes traditional van clients such as an HVAC company, roofer, plumber and landscaper to a wide range of business types such as a mobile DJ, graphics installer, vending company and a pharmacy.
Nissan’s vans aren’t the only vehicles available to commercial clients, who also go for the Nissan Frontier and Titan pickup trucks as well as Nissan’s sedan lineup. Foy says some clients have bought vans and then returned to buy sedans for the company’s salespeople.
What matters to Foy’s clients? It’s a tie between the [5-year, 100,000-mile bumper-to-bumper] warranty and the available upfits, he says. Particular to his dealership, on-the-ground inventory — or the ability to deliver the right trucks on demand — ranks third.
While Business Certified dealers can supply vehicles through dealer inventory, local bailment pools or ordering, 99% of van sales are sold out of dealer stock, Foy says, though he has ordered vans for greater quantities with specific configurations.
Product knowledge is also high on the list. “Product knowledge is worth more than price,” he says. “When you’re able to instantly answer the question, it’s huge.”