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Nissan Free Tow Hints at Changing Automotive Customer Relationships

by Roger Lanctot | Jul 17, 2013

Millions of car crashes occur every year around the world and every crash is an opportunity to delight or lose a customer.  Nissan clearly recognizes this proposition which explains why the company has begun providing free vehicle towing to customers who need collision repair, according to a report in Automotive News.

Collision repair is a $40B business in the U.S., according to the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association and new car dealers typically capture only about 15% of that.  But it can be very profitable business, for those dealers equipped to take it on, and it is strategically important given the need to temporarily - or maybe permanently - replace the damaged vehicle.

Automotive News says Nissan is promoting its 1-800-NISSAN-1 phone number for tow-truck service and paying for tows in an effort to bring bodywork to participating shops within 50 miles of the customers.  Nissan picks up the $50-$100 towing tab.

The offer reflects a growing global trend in the industry to seek out and capture collision aftercar business with coordinated marketing programs and offers.  A customer who suffers a collision is at the lowest point of customer satisfaction and the highest point of potential brand defection.  Car makers increasingly recognize the need to be there for customers and to tie in the dealer.

The Automotive News story says the service is intended to improve customer satisfaction with Nissan dealerships, bring more business to Nissan-affiliated body shops and sell more Nissan parts.  Nissan says it wants customers to think of their dealers when they have a driving mishap.

Nissan knows it is swimming against a strong current of consumer instincts to call the insurance company or broker.  Nissan is offering the free tow as a way to cut throw this instinctual consumer reaction.  By driving repair business back to the dealer, Nissan can not only enhance customer satisfaction and capture valuable aftersales business, they can also see to it that the car is repaired properly and the warranty preserved.

Nissan began offering the program in May with about 250 Nissan dealers and independent collision centers. The company expects to have 250 to 350 more shops certified for the program by the end of March, according to Automotive News. Eventually, Nissan plans to have a certified collision shop affiliated with each of the approximately 1,100 Nissan dealers.

The Automotive News says only a small number of Nissan franchises have dedicated body shops. So Nissan is asking dealers to recommend independent body shops to participate in the program.  "Once a dealer recommends an independent for the program, the factory sends auditors to evaluate the center on 120 criteria, including facility condition, personnel, training levels and equipment," reports Automotive News.

Nissan's larger concern with independent shops is technical training. The factory requires participating shops to meet the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair's Gold Class training standard, or to at least be working to meet the standard. The conference is a third-party training service for the collision-repair industry.

Nissan's effort is groundbreaking and reflects similar efforts in the UK and elsewhere.  While most car makers will provide loaner cars as part of their roadside assistance offerings for new cars, few consumers are aware of their access to these services.  The real challenge for Nissan will be to expand the free-tow program to more of a brand-defining offer to ensure broad consumer awareness and participation.

Nissan's initiative will be aided by emerging accident aftercare services such as an emergency contact information database enabled by California's pending AB 397 Motor Vehicle Next of Kin Notification law.  The pending California legislation is expected to contribute to an expanding industry effort to redefine the vehicle ownership experience following a car crash - a process that is also likely to enhance OEM and dealer profitability along with customer satisfaction.

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