As the old adage goes, change happens slowly, then all at once. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, companies were faced with once-in-a-generation challenges that needed to be addressed immediately. Sales plummeted in the automotive sector as conventional face-to-face sales processes suddenly became impossible.
Despite moves to modernize the sales experience in the industry pre-pandemic, progress was still needed to achieve a seamless purchasing journey for customers. The implications of the pandemic, which, in some cases, removed the ability to test drive cars, physically inspect vehicles and negotiate in person, have been accelerating the change.
“This was definitely a big challenge but also a big opportunity to change, because we never faced anything like this before,” explains Christian Costaganna, Managing Director at Nissan Nordic Europe, the Nissan sales and marketing representative in Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. “We learned how to react very fast, be agile and quickly set up a new way to communicate because we could not go to the office.”
Although he has spent more than 20 years in the industry, Costaganna says the past five years have been the most turbulent he has experienced.
“Now we are in the middle of an exciting transformation of the automotive business from a product perspective, but also from a distribution perspective. This is definitely one element that continues to motivate me in this industry, to manage the transition and transformation.”
Because of the level of electrification and digitalization, he also says the Nordic countries are much more exposed to these changes and they work as ‘pilot’ markets for the rest of Europe.
Being tasked with leading electrification and digitalization at Nissan Nordic is a major opportunity for Costaganna and his team to innovate. In late 2010, with the release of the all-electric Leaf, Nissan became the first brand to launch electric vehicles (EVs) to the mass market, achieving a pioneer status that they’re committed to building on.
Now, digital omnichannel experience, connectivity and data management are the major areas of innovation Nissan is intensively working on.
“Customer expectations are changing. Aside the evolution of demand for electric vehicles, customers are looking more and more for a seamless and transparent purchase and ownership experience,” he says.
“Together with our network, we are evolving our retail model and providing a consistent and transparent multichannel experience where online and offline are integrated. In this respect, we are currently implementing an agent distribution model in Sweden.”
Nissan is developing a brand new digital ecosystem in collaboration with Modera Software, one of Nissan Nordic’s suppliers, which will allow to optimize omnichannel sales through a brand new customer relationship management software.
At all levels of the organization, Costaganna is putting into practice initiatives to achieve sustainability. The reduction of operational carbon emissions throughout Nissan Nordic remains a key goal, with progress already being made, and tracked with an environment management system.
“We actively promote sustainability in our organization to reduce the carbon footprint of our operations and we are proud to be the first Nissan entity certified ISO14001,” he explains.
“The car industry makes for 40 percent of all CO2 emissions in the transportation industry, which itself represent 22 percent of all emissions in the economy. So it is our responsibility at Nissan Nordic to promote electrification across our markets.”
Nissan aims to achieve CO2 neutrality across the whole business by 2050, an ambition confirmed by the recent announcement of its US$3.8 billion investment in the 36Zero project in Sunderland, where three of the future Nissan EV models will be produced in a fully sustainable manufacturing plan.
“What we have been doing, and still do, is to be very active in the local automotive industry in order to educate all the stakeholders on how important it is to reduce emissions, whether they are in government or private industry,” Costaganna says.
Innovation is set to play a major role in Nissan’s plans to enhance sustainability across the entire automotive sector. The company is on track to launch 15 new EVs by 2030 and is working to build out a bi-directional charging ecosystem. This technology would allow owners to store energy within their car, which they could either send back to the grid or use elsewhere, such as in their house.
The car manufacturer is also developing the next generation of all solid state batteries that will significantly reduce the cost of EVs, double capacity and reduce charging time to one third, which in turn will boost their adoption. “Our plan is to introduce them by 2028,” Costaganna says.
Every relationship Nissan has built with its partners is founded on sustainability. One example is the requirements for product recyclability, which will be written into contracts with dealers as well as upcoming protocols that will also mandate the refurbishment and return of the batteries. Environmental criteria are considered at every level of partnerships, including in the purchasing department.
“We want to select partners who have the same vision in terms of sustainability that we have,” he says.
Using its influence and position of leadership in the industry, Nissan is working with suppliers to reduce waste and manage the safe disposal of chemical products. Nissan encourages its suppliers to embrace environmental standards, such as the ISO 14001 certification, to ensure operations throughout the supply chain are as sustainable as possible.
Thanks to such partnerships, Nissan Nordic is pioneering the next wave of transformation in the automotive sector as it continues its rebound from the pandemic. With a clear push forward in sustainability, the firm is ensuring growth and innovation that will support the entire automotive ecosystem.
Despite the immense challenges brought about by the pandemic, Costaganna learned vital lessons that remain with him today. Keeping lines of communication open with colleagues helped him identify any roadblocks or issues, which he then addressed rapidly.
As Managing Director, Costaganna knows firsthand the value of engaging and motivating staff and giving them the opportunity to grow. “That period was like driving in the fog, as we couldn’t see where we were going. We had to go slower and journey through the fog together,” he says.