Nicole Geenen is vice president of service operations for HAAH Automotive Holdings, which plans to introduce vehicles developed by China's Chery Automobiles to the U.S. market under the brand names Vantas and T-Go starting in 2022.
Geenen, 51, is the rare female executive in the fixed ops environment.
Before joining HAAH in 2019, she was director of service operations for Mitsubishi Motors. That followed a 29-year career at Mazda North American Operations, primarily in the fixed ops area.
Geenen spoke with reporter Jim Henry. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: Will your dealer network be coast-to-coast from the start?
A: We have well over 100 dealers. We will probably have about 250 dealers when we start retailing, and eventually add another 50 to 75, probably, to fill in the corners.
We need to be in the markets where the customers are at, so at first we will be in the largest markets. But we also need representation, from my perspective, from my service perspective, in all states, so that's where we're going to go.
Will there be service-related requirements for dealers, such as for diagnostic machines, special tools, etc.?
One of our principles is to be very customer-friendly and that applies to the dealers, too. We are committed not to have an excessively high overhead. I do not expect dealers to build a giant Taj Mahal. I have no intention of making them buy tools they're never going to use.
Will service include things such as pickup and delivery, online reservations and other digital services?
We knew from the start we wanted to be set up so customers could do everything that needs to be done, when you own a car, from the couch. Mobile service, pickup and delivery — all those things are on the table, and they'll be done [from] where the customers are comfortable.
Has your experience with other automakers been mostly in the field?
I've been in plenty of service bays, and in every area of dealership service departments. I'd say 60 percent of my career has been field-facing.
I've been in hundreds of dealerships. Truth be told, I'd rather hang out with the techs and with the service advisers at a dealership than in the boardroom — maybe don't quote me on that; just kidding!
But at the dealerships, they're the people who spend time with people and actually talk to customers and fix your cars. From them you can find out where your weaknesses are and where your strengths are — they'll tell you, straight up, and that's why I love them.
What aspects of working with dealerships do you enjoy the most?
The thing I got a lot of satisfaction from was where you were helping speed up the processes, getting customers in and out faster. It benefits the dealer and it benefits the customer.
How has it been, coming up through the ranks in service, in a particularly male-dominated specialty, in a male-dominated industry?
My career was built on being talented and having a skill set and an aptitude and passion for this area. My dad used to tinker on an old [Volkswagen] Karmann Ghia, and much to my mother's chagrin, I would be out there with him, underneath the car, getting dirty. I always had an interest in it.
Do you view yourself as a trailblazer?
I don't think I'm special. When I first started, sure, I was alone in the room. But I know there are a lot of females with a lot of aptitude and talent. I don't know if I'm unique or not; people keep telling me I am. But I'd love to see us be just like the marketing folks. It's important to have inclusiveness and diversity in all areas.
I know several females in charge of service at the dealership level, and [they]are doing it just like I'm doing it, they're out there every day.
I've run through the different chairs, and I've proved myself. I bring a lot of passion, and I align with HAAH's philosophy of building everything around the customer, and to me, the customer is also the dealer. That's why [HAAH CEO Duke Hale] chose me.