MIAMI – Nissan’s new NV van, its first foray into commercial vehicles in the U.S., is causing the auto maker’s dealers and marketers to employ new sales and service tactics.

“This is the most-researched vehicle Nissan has ever built,” Mike Hobson, director-light commercial and fleet vehicles for Nissan North America, says at an NV media event here.

The result of the company’s research, dating back to 2004, shows the segment’s Ford E-Series, Chevy Express/GMC Savana and Mercedes-Benz/Freightliner Sprinter all have “the least-satisfied” customers in the industry, says Peter Bedrosian, senior product planning manager-NNA light commercial vehicles.

With that in mind, Nissan is requiring 247 of its 1,058 U.S. dealers that have opted to sell the NV to meet a slew of prerequisites.

For example, because an NV’s time spent in service means time not spent on the road, an onerous hardship for the small businesses that are expected to make up the majority of customers, Nissan is asking dealers to offer extended service hours.

“The typical Nissan dealership in the U.S. has about 52 hours a week they stay open, and we’re asking them to at least be (open) 56 or 60 hours,” Hobson says, adding many dealers will achieve near 60 hours of weekly operation.

NV dealers also must have a higher-than-average part-stocking level and provide priority service scheduling, in order to get the driver on his way as soon as possible.

Other prerequisites include physical changes to dealer stores, including the addition of special “Nissan Commercial Vehicles” signage.

Dedicated service bays are a must, with at least one 12,000-lb. (5,443-kg) lift. A high-roof 3500 HD SV trim NV has 6,143-lb. (2,786-kg) curb weight.

About 20 of the 247 Nissan dealers who will sell the NV have done “ground-up builds,” Hobson says. “When they were doing a remodel for our Nissan Retail Design Initiative, they went ahead and extended their facilities and added on some dedicated buildings for Nissan commercial vehicles.”

Nissan is targeting 300 NV dealers in the U.S. by 2012.

To get potential NV buyers into dealerships, Nissan – recognizing that people driving commercial vans spend a lot of time inside them – will advertise heavily on radio.

The auto maker also is placing print ads in trade magazines, such as Plumbing Systems & Design and Builder, as well as in consumer magazines Entrepreneur, Smart Money and Fortune. “We’re trying to reach out to areas where owner-operators and people with a little more broad thinking might be located,” Hobson says.

Old-fashioned direct mail, as well as email, will be used to market the NV. Additionally, Nissan will place ads online in paid search placements. The NV even has an online social-networking presence, with Facebook and Linkedin pages.

Nissan also is hitting the road to raise awareness of the NV, attending vocational trade shows, including December’s International Builders Show in Orlando, where more than 1,000 consumers test-drove an NV, and conducting a mobile marketing tour.

The latter will have pre-determined stops in various cities. For instance, this month’s tour will take in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta and Orlando, with stops in March planned for New York, Chicago and other eastern U.S. cities.

“We will make multiple stops around those markets, to people’s businesses, maybe some ad-hoc stops at places if it looks interesting, and tie-in the opportunity for people to see this product,” Hobson says.

Nissan also is aware of the importance for commercial-van owners to market their own business via signage on their vehicle and it is offering a no-charge graphics wrap up to 70 sq.-ft. (6.5 sq.-m) to NV buyers via a partnership with Lakewood, CO-based Original Wraps.

NV buyers can design and submit a graphic for their van to Original Wraps via the dedicated website nissancommercialvehicles.com. “They will make sure the graphics work and tie-in, and they’ll make any creative adjustments that need to be made,” Hobson says.

“After that, the graphics are printed on very high quality vinyl and shipped out to the local installer near that customer.”

Buyers can choose between the no-charge wrap or a no-charge upfit package. The latter includes shelving or a partition, or a partition and interior or exterior utility rack. Adrian Steel, in Adrian, MI, is Nissan’s partner for the no-charge upfit, which also can be configured via the dedicated website.

The NV officially goes on sale in March at select Nissan dealers. Models range from the standard-roof-only, non-HD 1500 with 261-hp 4.0L V-6 engine to the high-roof-only 3500 HD model with a 317-hp 5.6L V-8. A 2500 HD model offers either a standard or high roof, plus the choice of a V-6 or V-8.

A 5-speed automatic transmission is standard across all NV grades.

The NV is being built at Nissan’s Canton, MS, plant, which underwent a $118 million renovation to expand and modify its body assembly and paint shops to accommodate the vehicle.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com