Andrew Humberstone, managing director of Nissan Motor GB, speaks to Natalie Middleton about the latest developments in the electric vehicle segment and Nissan’s ongoing work in this area.

It’s less than a year since Andrew Humberstone came onboard as managing director at Nissan Motor GB but it’s been rather an eventful one.

Aside from the ongoing Brexit negotiations, the coronavirus pandemic and the resultant closures of dealerships and manufacturing plants, we’ve seen growing public awareness of air quality and environmental concerns, news of the Government’s petrol and diesel car/van ban from 2030 and, now, confirmation of the new green number plates, which are intended to raise the profile of zero-emission cars on UK roads.

For Humberstone, who was previously leading all the importer markets at Nissan Europe and has more than 28 years’ experience in the global automotive sector, it’s also been a busy year at Nissan.

This summer saw the carmaker unveil its Ariya electric coupé crossover, heralded as a “true force of wonder” that marks a new chapter for the brand, competing with the Tesla Model Y and offering an estimated WLTP range of up to 310 miles when it arrives in 2021.

It’s part of Nissan’s NEXT transformation plan, which looks to roll out 12 new models in 18 months, and is built on an all-new Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance-developed EV platform that will underpin other EV models in the future.

Since then, Nissan has seen the 500,000th LEAF roll off the UK production line in Sunderland in September – some 10 years after the model was first launched – while in October it announced a range of MY20 updates to the range to bring lower pricing and increased equipment.

And in November Nissan revealed that it’s readying for the spring launch of its third-gen Qashqai, which gets a new platform and design, latest driver assistance tech and its first-ever hybrid powertrain – dubbed e-Power and using a range-extender set-up to bring drivers the instant response of an EV but without the range anxiety.

Ariya unboxing

MY20 Nissan LEAF

All-New Qashqai breaks cover

Already, Humberstone says that Nissan has seen a highly positive response to the news about the Ariya electric coupé crossover. “We have something called ‘hand-raisers [an online research panel] and we’ve had a huge amount of interest in Ariya. We can’t wait to move ahead with Ariya, it’s a really important vehicle for us. I think it will do a huge amount in terms of building and repositioning Nissan as a brand and making people even more aware of how LEAF and Nissan as a whole have been a major player in the EV space; we’ve been in this space over 10 years, we’ve produced over 500,000 cars and we have a good solid, used car market. We’re in a good place with a range of new and exciting products to further reinforce our position and incremental traction.”

But Ariya is just one of a number of areas where Nissan is advancing at the moment.

Humberstone says: “We’ve had a very interesting November. We’re seeing a lot of activity amongst the electric vehicle players and we’re pushing hard with our product range and our EV strategy locally which is something we’re really quite passionate about.” The e-NV200 electric van and people carrier also continues to gain traction according to Humberstone, helped by the fact that it’s been an early pioneer in these segments.

Humberstone says: “I particularly like the e-NV200, I think it’s great. It’s so diverse. It caters for so many different needs and it’s performing very well and very popular with a number of huge fleets out there.

“Our sales are up 45% YtD as of the end of October and even higher to the end of November, which we’re just finalising. We’ve sold a couple of thousand cars more already in 2020 versus the previous year and I think what’s interesting for me is that it’s not just a van, you’ve got the people carrier – the Combi version – which is either a five- or a seven-seater. It’s such a practical vehicle in this day and age, certainly with families, but we’re also finding it’s very popular with schools and with utilities companies and government fleets and things like that. So for us, it’s something we’re very proud of and we think there’s a lot of scope for that.”

Humberstone also says the carmaker is excited about the news of 2030 ban and also the new green registration plates, on the back of the Government’s confirmation of their introduction from 8 December.

Featuring a green flash down the left-hand side, they can be fitted to all-electric vehicles and could lead to the introduction of additional EV-only incentives in towns and cities across the country.

He comments: “The green number plates is an additional element which for me is really exciting. If you look at some of the survey data we’ve done, it was really quite interesting. While the majority [81%] of customers out there are very aware of the environmental benefits of EVs and the Leaf and e-NV200, 53% were not aware of the financial benefits.”

“I think there’s also a degree of street cred that comes with it,” says Humberstone, “sending a message out there that says ‘I am green and passionate about this.’ I think you’re also going to see it with vehicles like our e-NV200, where people are using these more and more for the small van segment, including daily deliveries due to the changing business levels we’re seeing as a result of Covid, for example. The small van sector is going through the roof and it’s so active with lots of new entries out there. I think that’s an interesting space.”

The news of the 2030 ban on petrol and diesel cars and vans – while no great industry surprise according to Humberstone – is also very opportune for Nissan.

He outlines: “It’s been on the cards for a while and I think we’re in a great position with our manufacturing plant being in Sunderland. We have a great access to supply and when we look at our fleet market that’s very convenient for us. And knowing that 2030 is just down the road, undoubtedly there will be a number of opportunities there as a result of that for those manufacturers who are arguably ahead of the game.

“From our production point of view, we’re in the right place at the right time and our product portfolio is ready to accommodate that.”

He adds: “For me the most important thing is how they invest in developing the infrastructure, there’s significant investment from the Government in that. These are the biggest obstacles in that space at the moment. So it’s really how about how do we support the infrastructure and what the Government does in that area and I think the demand is there, consumers want the product, we’re seeing an uplift of the segment.”

Green number plates

“What is interesting is that a third [32%] of respondents were more likely to buy an EV because of the green plates and I think that’s largely because so many of them were unaware of effectively what counties across the country are doing, the impact of Clean Air Zones and the fact that you’ve got various councils with CAZ plans.”

Andrew Humberstone, managing director of Nissan Motor GB

What about the work that needs to be done on letting drivers know the financial gains of EVs though?

“It’s really an interesting one,” says Humberstone. “It was over 50% who were not aware of the financial benefits. So the message is all about an EV being environmentally friendly but the question is that from a financial perspective people don’t know that we’re in an position where actually you can buy a Nissan LEAF EV for less than a traditional C-segment rivals, even before you take into account any financial benefits from running an EV.

“If we look at standard three-year/10,000-mile/£5,000-deposit offer and we look at the rivals – and I’m not even talking about EV rivals, I’m talking internal combustion-engined rivals – the perception of an EV being more expensive is just not a realistic assumption anymore.

We have a Nissan LEAF 40kW N-Connecta at £249 a month and that’s less than many ICE rivals in the C-segment.

“And then when you look at it, the running costs are a fraction of the ICE costs and this is another area where the ‘fuel’ is effectively a quarter of the cost of petrol and there’s a saving of c. £1,000 when you’re charging from home. And when you start bringing this into calculations of running costs and you do the sums, it makes a huge difference.

“We see the same with company car drivers too; there’s savings of up to £20,000, depending of the length of the lease. But you’ve also got savings of £3-£5k on the Benefit-in-Kind. There’s significant advantages now in moving to the EV space. Everything to gain at the moment.”

So what will we see in the future under the Nissan NEXT strategy? “We normally don’t get public at this particular stage but there’s lots of plans,” Humberstone stresses. “We have a very clear long-term strategy and there’s been a complete change in terms of how the organisation is looking at its new product launches and when they come and the frequency of when they come. All I can say is that new Qashqai and Ariya are just the beginning. We’ve got the new Juke, it’s a great little product and we’re going to expand the Juke range, and all of the other models will have multiple powertrains going forwards.”

As Humberstone says, with some well-established EV products and new ones on the horizon catering for a market turning away from ICE, Nissan is well placed to help fleet customers make the switch.

“We’re already trusted by a significant number of institutional fleets, the likes of Gloucestershire Police, SSE, etc. And we’re quietly excited about things going forwards. 2021 is going to be quite an exciting year for us.”

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