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Monday, October 3, 2022
Home News Cars Interview: Nissan still on Patrol in the Middle East

Interview: Nissan still on Patrol in the Middle East

Thierry Sabbagh, managing director, Nissan Middle East, talks about Nissan’s history and future in the UAE

The end of 2021 saw the UAE celebrate the 50th anniversary of its founding and if one vehicle has symbolised its incredible rise to prominence in the intervening five decades it must be the Nissan Patrol. The SUV proved itself in an era, where roads were rougher and life in the desert was harsher and forever established the Patrol as the vehicle of choice for a country eager to move into the modern era.

It wasn’t just popular in the UAE either. Going back to 1956 and just five years after the first models were shifted out of Japan, the first Patrols arrived on the shores Gulf neighbour Kuwait and it was soon proving an able desert workhorse for the nascent oil and gas industry and the ranks of military services across the region.

Nissan recently launched a region-exclusive 2022 Patrol 70th Anniversary model. Fittingly, it made its world premiere at Expo 2020 Dubai.

“Over decades of proving its unshaken reliability and capability, the Patrol has become an intrinsic part of the Middle East and its people, integrating itself as a culture within society.

“Catering to the unique needs of customers, the Patrol has earned its position as an icon and one that is passed on from one generation to the next,” says Thierry Sabbagh, managing director, Nissan Middle East. “The past 70 years have seen the Patrol accomplish magnificent feats, and as we set our sights on the future, the Patrol will continue to dominate and conquer for many years to come.”

With the Patrol maintaining its popularity, it is no surprise then that Sabbagh describes the Middle East as a key region of opportunity for Nissan, with the UAE still foremost in its mind.

“The UAE is a regional trade hub and an extremely important market for Nissan, one that we have been strongly committed to for over five decades,” he notes. “This has been possible with our trusted partners, Arabian Automobiles Company, the official distributor of Nissan vehicles in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, and Al Masaood Automobiles, the official distributor of Nissan vehicles in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. In 1994, Nissan was also the first Japanese carmaker to establish a regional headquarters in the Middle East, furthering our trust and dedication to the region, the nation, and its people.”

Like its fellow manufacturers, the course over the past two years has been bumpier than the dune bashing excursions you will often see the Patrols used for by the tourist industry in the UAE. However, 2021 should be regarded as a success for the company.

“During the first six-months (April 2021 – September 2021) of the company’s 2021 Fiscal Year, Nissan recorded a staggering 46.3% increase in sales across the Gulf region, comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE,” he says. “This equates to a market share increase of +0.3 points- equivalent to 1.8%”

He adds that these figures were strongly supported by its perennial best-selling model in the region, the “iconic” Nissan Patrol.

“Continuing its reign as the Hero of All Terrain, the Patrol witnessed a 27% increase in sales across the Gulf, while the Patrol Safari range experienced a 51% increase in sales – cementing the region’s adoration for the legendary SUV. This was echoed by other models in the line-up, including the Nissan X-Trail and KICKS recording a 129% and 14% increase in sales during the first half of FY21.”

Sabbagh believes that Nissan’s strong, growing line-up of vehicles and parts offering, along with its reputation as a trusted automaker has been the cornerstone of its success, “leading to us delivering higher sales than anticipated, despite the headwinds caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the past 12 months, we have also expanded our aftersales product line-up to include Nissan Genuine Battery with two years warranty and launched an aftermarket brand, Value Advantage that offers customers Nissan-validated parts at affordable prices.”

He argues that this has led the company to offering customers greater convenience, during a period where it has been able to grow its aftersales network in the region. The introduction of three new service facilities, has boosted overall capacity to over 2,500 vehicles per day and over 700,000 vehicles per year across 10 markets, he adds.

Talking of networks, the UAE’s role as strategic trading hub for the company remains central to its presence here, particularly in terms of the supply of spare parts to distributors across the region.

“While the size of the automotive spare parts market is challenging to measure due to the number of automotive and non-automotive stakeholders present, a conservative estimate would be between the AED 30 to 40 billion mark,” he remarks. “Experiencing rapid growth in recent years, the importance of the UAE as a market for automotive spare parts both regionally and globally cannot be undermined.

“The UAE’s geographical location and high standards of business contribute to its role as a major hub, as do the freezones across all emirates that provide excellent logistical gateways for spare parts businesses in the country. Serving as a host through multiple parts-related exhibitions such as Automechanika, the UAE has further cemented its role as the nerve center for businesses and the importance of the booming automotive parts sector.”

He adds that Nissan’s commitment to the UAE has solidified over the past five decades and is evident with a footprint of over 250 authorised genuine parts wholesalers, service centers and over 25 spare parts outlets operated by its trusted partners, Al Masaood Automobiles and Arabian Automobiles in the UAE.

Nissan also offers customers a broad range of genuine spare parts including oil filters, brake pads, timing belts, spark plugs, and air filters. He tells T&FME that the company always aims for the highest level of safety and reliability at competitive prices but believes that fake spare parts are “widely spread” in the market. While the company is proactive in initiatives to prevent their use and distribution, he warns that their prevalence threatens road safety in the region.

“The damaging effects of counterfeit spare parts are countless – they represent serious threats to the safety of drivers and those around them and continue to be a major cause of accidents in the region,” he comments. “Together with the UAE government and local partners, Nissan has made great strides in eliminating the number of counterfeit spare parts in the market through awareness campaigns that improve the safety of our customers. An often-overseen downside of fake spare parts is the wastage caused due to the shorter life span, leading to more parts required per car in the long run. An associated issue is also the impact on authorised parts dealers, diminishing revenue generation due to the significantly lower prices of fake spare parts.”

While multiple stakeholders are working together towards the betterment of the industry, Sabbagh believes the widespread presence of low-quality counterfeit parts have damaging effects to customers, businesses, and the economy.

“To combat this, Nissan is working with government entities while introducing multiple awareness campaigns to educate drivers about the dangers and risks of fake spare parts,” he explains.

“The other challenge facing the spare parts industry is the global supply chain backlog and the limited production of spare parts in the GCC region. By working closely with our local partners, we are expanding inventories to cover any potential gaps due to logistical constraints. In doing so we can ensure our customers aren’t affected and receive the high-quality service and parts that they have come to expect from Nissan.”

Widening his looks at the major challenges in the industry, he highlights the short supply of semi-conductors as an issue that must also be addressed to keep the automotive industry moving.

“The semiconductor shortage has not only affected the automotive industry but also had a negative multiplier effect in the consumer electronics and lighting industries amongst others,” he says. “As Nissan continues to make innovation accessible for all, we continue to coordinate with global colleagues and local partners as we inch closer towards rectifying the shortage, by increasing manufacturing footprint globally and refining logistical concerns that surround the semiconductor shortage.”

Sabbagh is positive that the UAE will continue to be a highly competitive but vital market for Nissan: “Serving as a land of opportunity for businesses in the region and globally, the UAE market is competitive by nature for all industries, automotive spare parts included. That said, we are constantly evaluating the requirements of the market.”

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Stephen Whitehttps://truckandfleetme.com/
Stephen White was formerly editor of Big Project ME.
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