Sunday, February 3, 2013

Yokohama Day Three

Thursday, I did get a bit more sleep but was still at breakfast in the Compass Room right at 6 AM. This time, I left early to shower and dress for the short ride to Nissan World Headquarters where we were having a meeting in the "Big Wheel" Conference Room also on the top floor.

Here is a where Nissan top brass has business meetings. What you dont see is a giant screen that allows them to video conference with associates around the world.  Each chair is miked for sound.  Notice Darrel in a show of respect sitting on the railing separating the inner circle from the outer circle.

Attending the meeting to hear us present our views were

Toshiaki Otani; Senior VP, Global Battery Business Unit, Global Zero Emission Business Unit

Yasuharu Watanabe; Manager of EV Energy Development Dept. Battery Engineering Group

Tooru Abe; Chief Product Specialist in charge of LEAF product planning

Atsuhiko Hoshino; GM in charge of LEAF global sales

Shinsuke Tominaga; Manager LEAF global sales

Kiho Ohga; Deputy GM for EV Infrastructure, ZEV Strategy Group

Kazuchika Nakamura; Global Chief Marketing Manager for global EV Marketing

Masayo Sawada; Manager, Global Chief Marketing Manager's Office in charge of Global EV Marketing

Kumiko Oana; Staff, Global Chief Marketing Manager's Office in charge of Global EV Marketing

Makoto Okubo; Customer Insight Specialist, Global Market Intelligence Dept.

Since this meeting was more an intro than anything else, we were basically allowed to do most of the talking. Here is where we presented what we felt were the biggest barriers to EV sales success. The cost, range and infrastructure; so in that sense, both Nissan and our group were on the same page.  After we had finished speaking the Nissan representatives were given an opportunity to briefly provide their thoughts.

Some things that they were thinking about doing was providing a certain number of free rentals to each LEAF driver to eliminate stress over the "5%" (term used to describe trips that are beyond the LEAF's normal range). There was actually a program launched in Spring of 2012 that provided this benefit but it was up to the dealer whether or not they participated in the program. The program had very favorable reviews (for the people who were offered it) but this time, Nissan wanted to offer the program directly from corporate which is a MUCH better and insures that all LEAF drivers get the same opportunity.  This takes the dealer completely out of the picture.  The logistics of such a program are large and no real details on this as of yet.

The other thing (which is no longer news) is an ambitious plan to build their own fast charge network. Whether they were encouraged by Tesla's announcement of the same or whether they finally heard us crying about the current vendors inept attempts at providing a network, I dont care. How I can get multiple quick charge options in my region is not that important just as long as it happens and fairly quickly.  Once again, no firm plans but they did state "significant progress" on the network within 60 days.

One of the biggest topics discussed is how to build brand excitement. We EV drivers know that the LEAF might be green, (coal fired electricity) might be economical, (the Prius in expensive electricity TOU areas) or might be convenient to refuel (if you dont live in multi-dwelling housing) but there was no question that an EV is fun to drive. Smooth and responsive power, super quiet, low center of gravity makes maneuvers a breeze, etc. The challenge here is how to convey that message to the potential buyer who has never driven an EV.  To address that issue, the thought of providing extended test drives for perhaps a weekend. One suggestion was an extended return policy.  Buy a LEAF, if you are not happy with it, return it within 15 days or even 30?

Incentives for current LEAF owners who promote the EV lifestyle that results in someone purchasing a LEAF was also discussed.  Referral programs are common in the automotive industry  if someone sends a potential buyer to their salesman that results in a sale, compensation is frequently offered as incentives. It could be cash, t-shirts, hats, or even service gift certificate.

This is only a partial list of things discussed and all these topics will be addressed in more details by the group in the following months.

After the meeting, the next agenda was lunch at the cafeteria on the 6th floor overlooking Yokohama Bay where Bento Boxes were served. As always, the food was excellent!

After lunch, it was a leisurely walk thru the underground mall back to the hotel (about half a mile or so...)

Its a bit hard to see, but the transportation options here are amazing. Subway, bus, train, and high speed rail all interconnect making it very easy to get around this very busy place!  Our walk is typical of the Japanese culture and very accepted here and also wonderful for one's health!  Use Google Maps and get directions from Yokohama to Tokyo.  In the US, the default is door to door by car.  In Japan, Google Maps incorporates all the transportation modes above including walking!

Then it was back on the bus for a very long ride to the Nissan Technical Center. The level of security here was very high. The entrance was a tunnel into a complex completely surrounded by hills and mountains. Very secure!

Here we were greeted by Koji Nagano and Maroru Aoki, Design Directors for the Global Design Center where we got an up close view of several EV mockups set for release between 2014 to 2017. Unfortunately, no cameras here and unable to give much details about the cars we saw other than to say that Nissan is fully committed to EVs and will be releasing several new models every year for the foreseeable future.

Later we were joined by Andy Palmer and Simon Sproule, Corporate VP for Global Marketing Communications for a discussion concerning details of product launches and time frames. The releases and time frames  are "99%" set so they are not speculating on concepts any longer.

Then it was back on the bus for the long ride back to Yokohama and a dinner cruise on Yokohama Bay

This was basically the farewell dinner as this was the last planned event with our hosts thru out the trip. Without them the trip would not have been nearly as enjoyable. They acted as our interpreters, tour guides, history and cultural advisors.  And also provided us employee discounts for any purchases at Nissan Stores! They were;

Jeff Kuhlman; Division GM of Global Communications in charge of global product/corporate/executive/internal/CSR communication

Osamu Igarashi; Deputy GM of Global Chief Marketing Manager Office in charge of global EV communication

Masako Fujita; Deputy GM of Battery Business Unit/Global Zero Emission Business Unit/ Global Chief Marketing Managers Office

Toshitake Inoshita; Manager of Global Communication Dept in charge of Global Corporate Communication.

As always, the food was totally awesome and Vintage aged Saki was served and it was VERY good. Here we were joined by Dan Sloan; GM Global Communications Division in charge of Global Media Center.

After dinner, Karaoke is a avid pursuit here in Japan and it simply would not be a complete trip without it! (the Saki helped a lot!)  Here Toshitake was excellent singing American songs and  Dan just blew Japanese songs out of the water.  Sung and READ in Japanese, Amazing!

Then it was back to the hotel. It was inconceivable that anything could have topped the previous day, but this one actually did.

To be continued


  1. I agree about getting people to realize how fun the LEAF is to drive, every time I'm visiting friends I try to charge my LEAF up all the way. Then when someone needs to make a trip, I just give them my keys, a quick once-over on how to get moving, and let them take it. Invariably, they all come back telling me how much fun it is.

  2. Glad you made it back safely and had a really good time it sounds like. I'm quite jealous although those 12 west coast/asia flights are quite rough. Sounds like things are really moving forward over there and good ideas and products are on the way. If Nissan keeps this up they'll have a buyer for life.