North America Inc. is putting dealer personnel selling and servicing the upcoming Leaf electric vehicle through intense training prior to the car’s December sales launch.
The Leaf initially will be available in five U.S. markets: California, Tennessee, Oregon, Washington and Arizona, with Texas and Hawaii coming online in January. So far, about 250dealers in those markets have opted to sell the EV.
“Because of the new technology, you have to be very safe around this car,” Brian Maragno, Nissan’s program manager-EV sales operations and dealer-network strategy, tells Ward’s in an interview.
“It has a very large lithium-ion battery, so we’re taking great care to train these technicians, (as) the battery is something the dealers will be removing from the car, taking apart, testing (and) replacing parts where necessary.”
Nissan technicians must be certified as electrical specialists or master technicians, Maragno says, estimating 80% already are master technicians, even before the start of the dealer training process.
Once certification is acquired, Nissan requires service technicians to complete online EV tutorials.
“This all has to happen prior to even attending (the) 4-day training course, which is the final element of EV certification on the technical side,” Maragno says.
Learning how to service the Leaf’s 24 kWh Li-ion battery is part of the training, as an annual “battery health check” will be recommended to buyers. Technicians also need to know how to remedy any battery issues that arise.
Unlike Li-ions found in consumer electronics devices, the Leaf’s battery pack can be opened and each of its 48 modules tested.
With the Leaf lacking a gasoline engine, one might presume the Nissan dealer service tech is on the verge of becoming the next Maytag repairman.
Not so, says Maragno, who argues that even without oil changes and with relatively long-lasting parts such as regenerative brakes, Nissan dealers likely will retain or even see more of their customers by selling the technically complex Leaf.
“(Customer) retention is a very huge element to this,” he says. “The technology that’s in this car is not anything a third-party service shop would deal with right now.”
Leaf dealers also will be able to profit from the Leaf’s port- and dealer-installed accessories.
NNA spokeswoman Katherine Zachary says one accessory will be a zero-emission decal. Others include floor mats made in part with corn-based materials; an interior 3D holographic door kick plate; and a cargo-area recycling organizer, complete with three reusable “Leaf” grocery bags.
Nissan dealership sales staff also must be schooled on the Leaf.
Two employees per store will be appointed as “EV sales leaders” or “EV sales specialists.” About 90% of those selected among the first wave of Nissan dealers to sell the Leaf are management-level workers, Maragno says.
Prospective EV sales leaders are required to take a variety of Internet courses, including one that certifies them in Internet-lead management.
“Placing an order (for the Leaf) requires interaction with the dealership, and that’s been going on now since late August,” he says.
Nissan now is converting Leaf reservation holders, those who placed a $99 refundable deposit for the car, to dealer orders.
“The point of that process is unique,” he says. “It’s placing an order with the dealer via our website. To do all that, there’s a lot of training because it’s a new process.”
EV sales leaders and specialists also are required to take safety courses and be product-certified, which means possessing knowledge of the Leaf from “soup-to-nuts,” Maragno says.
Once the Internet certification courses are complete, sales leaders and specialists attend an 8-person, instructor-led half-day course.
Maragno says such an event held Oct. 28 in Nashville showed how well Nissan’s Internet training is paying off.
“It was phenomenal, all eight (sales leaders and specialists) were just jumping on the answers,” he says. “Having been in this business for awhile, working with dealers for 10 years, I’ve never seen that level of engagement.”
Nissan is not requiring Leaf dealers to make cosmetic changes to their showrooms, nor will it ask for the car to be sectioned off into a designated display area. “We didn’t want to make dealers spend money on something that wasn’t really functional,” Maragno says.
Rather, the Leaf will be sold alongside all other Nissan-branded models.
But dealers are being asked to install 220V charging stations, two for their internal use and two for customers to access. The cost of installing the chargers will vary, depending on the age of the facility and electrical setup.
And it’s unlikely the charging will be a free service to customers. “Dealers are independent businessmen,” Maragno says, noting air to fill tires often isn’t free anymore.
More than 20 charging stations were expected to be in place at participating dealers in late October, with a major ramp-up” of charging-station installations to begin this month and continue through December.
Maragno says about 85% of Nissan dealers in the initial Leaf sales markets will retail the EV, adding most dealers opting out are in rural areas.