NISSAN Insider recently caught up with the outgoing chairman of Nissan’s National Dealer Association, Michael Finn, and chatted to him about his time at the helm of the dealer body. Finn is Group Managing Director of Wellington Motor Group, Somerset.
When did you first become involved in NDA?
From memory about eight years ago. I’d been chairman for four years when I finished just before Christmas and before that I was involved for four years at least.
How did your involvement come about?
I was invited to come on board to discuss my opinion on dealer interaction and various other ideas and it really grew from there.
How long have you been a Nissan dealer?
What’s the NDA all about?
Fundamentally it’s about understanding and communication. Understanding the issues and ideas of both sides – dealer and manufacturer – and communicating them to the other.
Having been a dealer for so long, was it an eye-opener to see things from a different perspective?
Yes, massively. I had to understand the challenges that a manufacturer operating in today’s climate has to handle and try to communicate back to them the challenges that a dealer faces. I became chairman in 2008 just in the middle of the crisis and so it was quite an interesting time. The first six to 12 months were very interesting in fact!
Has your involvement made you a better dealer?
Without doubt it’s helped me understand more. I don’t know whether I’d be so arrogant to say it’s made me a better dealer – but I think in reality it’s definitely given me more insight into how everything works and that’s probably helped me in the long run.
When you first took the role of chairman, what were the big challenges?
The big challenge then was the global climate, all the cost reduction we had to look at and basically making sure it was an operation for the survival of the network – the same as every other manufacturer was going through at that time.
We also had to have an understanding of some of the natural cuts that the manufacturer had to make and the impact they would have on the dealer network. That was difficult because it was a hugely concerning time for everybody involved. An understanding about what we had to do and some of the tough decisions the manufacturer had to make at that time was key.
What influence does the NDA have?
We’re there to communicate as much as possible, flag up issues and give our opinion on things. But at the same time you’ve got to put that into perspective and ask what influence any dealer association has. In fairness to Nissan I would say they listen much more than most manufacturers. And there have been certain wins over the period which prove just that.
Probably the biggest influence we had during my time as chairman was on new block exemption regulations and getting probably a more pragmatic approach taken to that. Some of the original proposals we felt would not only impact on the dealer body, but would also impact negatively on the manufacturer. So I think we managed to talk around certain areas of that which proved a major plus.
Any other notable successes?
I think block exemption was the big one but another around vehicle launches and the need for a consistent programme of support from launch through the lifetime of the vehicle.
Going back a few years you could sometimes say everything wasn’t ready at the time of launch but certainly, from what we’ve seen in recent years, when Nissan launch a new model virtually everything is in place and ready to go.
The NDA can’t take all the credit but we flagged up the issue and the improvements are certainly, in part at least, the direct result of communication between the dealer association and the manufacturer.
What are the challenges facing your successor?
The challenge moving forward is really bringing together the desire for market share that Nissan clearly wants (and with the brand evolving clearly deserve) with realistic objective setting and facility requirements for the dealer network. It has to be gradual and pragmatic. Having said that, the offset is that it’s really exciting as we’re looking at it from a position of growth.
The other challenge is around constant communication. One of the things I didn’t manage to achieve properly was a direct line of communication back to the network. I think we need to concentrate further on making sure the communication from dealer association to the network is much stronger and I wish I’d managed to achieve more on that.
What’s your overall assessment of where the brand and the network are?
I think this is an incredibly exciting time for the brand. We’ve got some fantastic models, a manufacturer that is very aggressive and ambitious and I personally believe we’ve got one of the best networks in the UK.