Nissan ready to clarify its mobility message

Nissan ready to clarify its mobility message

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NASHVILLE — When Nissan goes live at CES next week showcasing its marketing mantra of “Nissan Intelligent Mobility,” Las Vegas crowds might well wonder what that tag line means.

And Nissan is ready for the question.

“We get, ‘Intelligent mobility? What the heck does that mean?’ ” admits Chris Reed, vice president for components engineering at Nissan Technical Center North America in Farmington Hills, Mich.

“It’s our goal to have zero emission and zero fatality, and this expresses how we intend to get there.”

But Reed, a vehicle chief engineer on the automaker’s D-platform crossovers, can’t be expected to explain the term to everyone.

For the last year, Nissan North America has been trying to clarify its message about the new technologies of autonomous drive and connected services. But at the same time, it has been working to get all interested parties on the same page with what it’s really all about.

And in the swirling world of strange new technologies, mobility concepts and ephemeral vehicle features, that’s no simple matter.

“I want you to be able to quiz anybody who works at Nissan, and they should be able to tell you, what are the three pillars of Intelligent Mobility? How do they relate, and what are we trying to get?” said Reed.

“It’s a consistent message about our vision.”

Reed: A consistent message

Same page

A year or so ago, the company had the unsettling realization that different parts of Nissan were marching to different drummers when it came to that new product message. Engineers on one program focused on their own technologies. Marketing managers centered on what they believed

consumers needed to hear about any given vehicle. Executives pounded out a variety of messages.

“We recognized we weren’t communicating very well, internally or with our dealers, in the media or to the customer,” Reed said. “We were taking for granted how the car operates and how customers interact with it. But we realized that we needed to raise our game, and that’s one of the reasons we’re focusing on Intelligent Mobility as our message.

“We want every employee, every engineer, every stylist, every purchasing person, to be focused on what we’re trying to achieve as a goal and live it.”

In late 2016, Reed joined Michael Bunce, Nissan North America vice president of product planning, and Jeremy Tucker, Nissan’s vice president of marketing communications, in monthly meetings to get the message clear.

The group first called itself “the Autonomous Drive Steering Committee” but quickly realized that didn’t reach far enough into all the plans and features it needed to communicate.

The group now draws in key players from product planning, sales, marketing, media relations, engineering, purchasing and whoever else needs to help plan how each model will be “communicated” with respect to Intelligent Mobility.

“In the past, it was people in r&d saying, ‘You guys tell us what you want. We’ll develop it, and you guys sell it.’ Now, we’re all sitting at the same table saying, ‘How are we going to market ProPilot Assist? Let’s make sure we all know what that is. Let’s all develop the message together.’ ”

The group arranges vehicle drives to make sure all parties are familiar with the technologies and how they work. Engineers look over marketing storyboards to understand how new features will be marketed.

Over the last several months, hundreds of people have gone through Nissan’s U.S. assembly plants in Smyrna, Tenn., and Canton, Miss., to communicate the Intelligent Mobility message and involved thousands of production technicians in the process, Reed said.

“This is a grass-roots campaign,” he said. “The question we have been asking all of our employees is, ‘How would you sell Intelligent Mobility to your neighbor?’ ”

Nissan considers ProPilot Assist, above, a “key stepping stone” to autonomous drive.

The crowds

The CES gathering of largely nonautomotive showgoers will put the messaging to the test.

Nissan will offer attendees driving experiences in its new-generation 2018 electric Leaf, which goes on sale this month, along with presentations on the car’s advanced features. Among them: ProPilot Assist, Nissan’s hands-on driver-assist steering system that the automaker says prepares customers for the next level of automated steering; e-Pedal, the technology that allows the car’s accelerator pedal to do double duty on accelerating and braking; Intelligent Lane Intervention; a driver-alertness feature; and blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts.

These technologies will proliferate across Nissan’s model line, Reed says. And in fact, they already have begun to. While the new Leaf steals the spotlight at CES, the company also introduced ProPilot Assist in the 2018 Rogue, now on sale.

Other features that inch closer to autonomous drive are on their way.

The 2018 Leaf that went on sale in Japan includes a feature that allows the car to select a nearby parking spot and park itself while the driver simply holds down a button on the console. The car manages front-in parking, back-in parking and parallel parking.

That nifty technology didn’t make it into the U.S. version, but it was only a launch timing issue, Reed said. “It’s definitely coming here.”

The U.S. team wanted to keep the market’s initial focus on ProPilot Assist, which Nissan considers a “key stepping stone” to autonomous drive.

The company expects to offer vehicles that can autonomously navigate urban roads and intersections in 2020 and operate with full autonomous control in 2022.

Connected

Nissan wants to use CES to talk about other pieces of the Intelligent Mobility drive as well.

One is the development of cloud-based connected-car services, including infotainment, telematics and remote control functions such as over-the-air system updates.

Reed says a significant wave of product enhancements is on the way — all the more reason for the company to have all personnel clear on what it’s all about.

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