The Nissan brand's push to sell more full-size Titan pickups this year is being supported with an all-out training campaign by the automaker. And in many cases, Nissan dealers really need the instruction, says Tim Hill, owner of Hill Nissan in Winter Haven, Fla., and chairman of the Nissan National Dealer Advisory Board.
"There has been a lot of training — and a lot of training is needed," Hill said. "A lot of it's new for Nissan dealers. Before, we had basically one model of the Titan. Now we're going more head-to-head with the domestics, offering many different truck variations. That's a learning curve when you haven't been selling full-sized trucks."
The factory training covers the technical aspects of the Titan and the retail art of handling customers in the segment.
Despite nearly 60 years of selling pickups in the U.S. market, Nissan remains a relative newcomer to the world of full-size trucks, says Hill, whose family dealership dates back to when the brand was still called Datsun.
Prior to 2003, Nissan's only pickup was the midsize Frontier. And the first Titan that arrived that year was limited in its range, not truly competing head-to-head with the Detroit 3 trucks that rule the segment. The first Titan came with only one engine and little variation in body configuration.
The current Titan, which began appearing one variation at a time at the end of 2015, now comes with a V-6, V-8 or diesel V-8, with a regular or a heavy-duty frame, and with different cab and cargo configurations. Last year, Nissan sold 52,924 Titans. That's a fraction of the F-150 pickups that Ford sells, but still a 142 percent increase over 2016 sales of the second-generation Titan.
"It takes specialized training to understand the different customers in the segment," Hill said. "To know the differences between the diesel and the gas trucks, and long bed, short bed and all the configurations, and even the single cab, which we never had before."
The training has been occurring in-store, with some focus not just on Nissan's offerings, but also on those of Nissan's bigger rivals.
"There is some degree of competitive intelligence so that our dealers know what the competitors are offering. But there is a whole set of technical knowledge that we need to learn. It's a sales discussion of gear ratios, for example. The customer comes in knowing these issues, and it's important to them. When you've been selling cars and crossovers that don't come in these different configurations, you're just not used to it," Hill said.
The company and its dealer advisory board worked through different ideas about the training. One question was how many dealership personnel actually needed to be trained on selling Titans.
Nissan urged dealers — for many of whom this was an unfamiliar practice — to designate someone from their sales staffs to be the store's commercial-vehicle point person. The factory wanted that person, or perhaps a number of people, to be certified in selling the pickup.
But the dealer board countered that entire sales staffs should be certified.
"Our goal is to train everybody for this," Hill said. "The argument was that they should all get certified.
"Some will be experts and some won't," he explains. "But they all need to go through the training. As a salesperson, you don't want to have to tell your customer, 'I'm now going to turn you over to somebody else.' No, you're going to want to make the sale yourself."