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Though the closure of its sole assembly plant for the Almera sedan in Santa Rosa City in Laguna that capped a discouraging year in a paralyzing pandemic was a painful blow, it was by no means fatal. Thus, for Nissan Philippines Inc (NPI), there’s nowhere to go but up and forward this 2021. Such an optimistic tone was set during NPI’s Jan. 28 virtual press conference-cum-thanksgiving with the media.

NPI president and managing director Atsushi Najima carefully answered the most pressing questions of the day, including that of NPI’s plans of bringing back local assembly of any Nissan volume seller, even if the wounds of its experience with the Almera were still so fresh.

“We need to consider a number of factors: One, customers’ needs and preferences in the market and also the size and scale; two, labor costs; three, supplier availability in the market; four, currency and economic factors; and, five; regulations, including the safeguard measures.  That’s what we need to consider even for decades down the road,” Najima explained.

Najima also shared his thoughts on the new safeguard measure imposed on completely built imported vehicles. “We need to continue to work with the government, suppliers, and all stakeholders, including the dealers. We share our thoughts with the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines (Campi) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for a productive discussion.”

He was loath to revealing specific numbers and targets for 2021, though. “It is hard to make a forecast for 2021 as there are a lot of uncertainties.” As for the final verdict on the new safeguard measures, he reiterated that the Tariff Commission would make the final call.

In a Jan. 29 follow-up to his answer about the closure of the Almera local assembly, Najima told Inquirer Motoring: “The decision to end the local production of the Almera is aligned with the company’s plan towards optimized production and efficient business operations in the Asean region, as part of the Nissan NEXT transformation plan.”

Doing electrification right

The highlight of the Jan. 28 meet might have been the reveal of the updated mid-sized SUV Nissan Terra VL, but NPI also hinted that chances are high that it would finally launch the Leaf EV in 2021.

But again, no date was given. “We are continuously firming up our plans for its launch. We will share with you more information as we near its introduction,” Najima told Inquirer Motoring.

He explained that introducing an EV into the market isn’t as easy as merely throwing in the vehicle into the fray. The market needs to know first what the Leaf is all about, inside and out, and NPI itself needs to check how receptive its customers are to a radically new vehicle. “We need to continue to educate customers about what electrification is, its benefits on maintenance and cost of owning. We’ve studied customer events in Makati as well as in Alabang. We still get a lot of questions, see a lot of interest from customers. They raise concerns, sometimes even misconceptions. So, we need to educate them on how they can best use the Leaf and (optimize) the range, etc. Then, gradually, I think electrification will really start in the Philippines,” Najima stressed.

He pointed out that Nissan is in the ideal position to provide the best example of an EV. “We have had a decade of history already. We launched the Leaf in Japan in 2010, and it has expanded to more than 50 countries already.”

Far from making EVs just another niche option, Nissan’s target has always been to mass market them.

“So, we have had a history of EVs, then also as a distributor we have formed a hypothesis on how to market this in the Philippines. We are gradually penetrating the market. We are seeing how our assumptions on EVs in the Philippines could have been right or wrong. We’re making some adjustments and further analyses, which are also based on other countries’ experiences,” Najima disclosed.

For NPI, the Leaf is the mere tip of the iceberg. The entire ice shelf is all about furthering the advocacy on vehicle electrification. That advocacy involves, no doubt, the local motoring media as a key partner in pushing the agenda for “EV-fication” of Philippine motoring.

Such has been evident in NPI’s call for motoring scribes to join the Feb.5 webinar called “Nissan FUTURES – Electrification and Beyond”. With the theme “Electrifying 250 million cars. An impossible dream?”, the webinar will see opinion leaders discussing the future of mobility in the Asean. The webinar will also reveal the results of the Frost & Sullivan study on consumer perceptions towards electrified mobility in Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong.

Shoring up dealers, manpower

As for dealership expansion, Najima did mention a number. Well, two numbers. “For dealer expansion that would bring the Nissan brand closer to our customers, we aim to open three or four dealerships around the country within the year.”

Najima also revealed that NPI had been busy shoring up its manpower in 2020 by providing more than 1,600 training sessions for its dealer sales, marketing, service, and technical personnel.

Pandemic highs and lows

The shadow of Covid-19 still looms large and dark, not just for NPI but for the entire automotive industry. As such, much of the Japanese carmakers’ next moves would be carried out in the context of an ongoing pandemic.

Najima explained: “The health and safety of our customers and employees will remain our top priority. Right now, we are maximizing online and digital solutions to minimize physical interaction to prevent the spread of the virus. When the time comes that the public is ready and allowed to do face-to-face interactions, we will be flexible and agile in giving our customers options on how we provide them innovative products and excellent services.”

He added, “Nissan is entering 2021 with grounded optimism to pursue the company’s commitment to enrich Filipinos’ lives. The Nissan NEXT transformation plan is the company’s guide towards sustainable and steady growth through prioritization and focus. More than having a new logo, the company finds inspiration from the brand’s heritage of innovation and spirit of daring the impossible.”

The introduction of the updated Terra comes on the heels of retail sales reports from both Campi and the Association of Vehicle Importers and Distributors Inc (Avid). The report placed NPI as the third best selling automotive brand, with an 8.9 percent market share. The Navara pick-up remains the brand’s top sales driver, contributing 42.1 percent of its total sales. The Urvan and the Terra were also strong sellers, contributing 23.6 and 17.9 percent of the year’s sales, respectively.

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