Nissan’s Judy Wheeler talks mentoring, second delivery and Ariya EV at Automotive News Retail Forum

Judy Wheeler is the Divisional Vice President of Nissan Sales & Regional Operations at Nissan U.S. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)

Las Vegas — On Feb. 1, Nissan U.S. divisional vice president Judy Wheeler was one of the keynote speakers at the 2024 Automotive News Retail Forum. She discussed mentoring women at the automaker, the Nissan@Home second delivery program and the all-new Nissan Ariya electric vehicle.

Automotive News Executive Editor Jamie Butters lead the question-and-answer session.

Q: First, we’re going to talk about mentoring. Judy joked, whenever she retires, she may best be remembered for her mentoring. How did your interest in mentoring get started:

Wheeler: “Well, there’s not a lot of mentors for women in the automotive industry. It’s not my first rodeo if you can all tell. I’m in this business for 39 years and I always said, when I get to that point where I could put out that hand and help someone else that I would do it. In 2003, I came back to the United States and was running the women’s synergy organization for what is now Stellantis. I decided it was time to do something. We had about 1,500 members so I started a mentoring program. The first year I started it, I actually used an outside agency to get it started. Once we launched that first year, it took a couple hundred women through the program. I should be able to create something that’s even bigger and better. I have literally done it every year since 2003. A few hundred people go through the program and what’s really fun about it is that it’s expanded through our entire company. Now, I’m at Nissan and I’ve started what’s called mentoring circles where I have a mentor and someone works with them and they’ll do 10 people in a group and they meet and then they meet with their mentors as well. There’s about 2,000 people that I’ve mentored at least.”

Q: So the mentor circles, is it like five mentors and five mentees and then they share insights as a group?

Wheeler: “So I have 10 mentoring circles. I have 10 directors or Vice Presidents in each of the circles and then 10 participants in each of the groups. We have a set criteria that we go through. We have actual presentations, they may have to do some homework ahead of time prepare about themselves, what they are trying to gain. It’s really helpful because everyone grows. In the very beginning, we ask each group what is it they really want to concentrate on over the next year. It’s always interesting, at the end of the year, and someone’s like, I want to continue to be mentor or mentee and work with this person. It goes on and on and on.”

Q: There’s a lot of talk, a lot of interest here at the NADA Show about digital retail, especially in the wake of Amazon’s deal with Hyundai. Nissan has its Nissan@Home program which as a manufacturer, being directly involved in customers can sometimes rub dealers the wrong way. But you’ve really worked with them to be collaborative. How does that work?

Wheeler: “We have an end-to-end, you can do everything completely online. In some states, you have to come in for a signature. We have between 70 and 75 percent of our dealers as part of the program. It is fascinating to see, the one thing that came up, probably four months ago, during our national dealer advisory board meeting, one of the larger dealer groups said, ‘Your platform is really good but its how it really integrates more with our CRM (customer relationship management).’ He said the two platforms don’t speak very well to each other. So we’re doing double work. What we ended up doing, after listening to the dealer, OK, let’s start a committee of dealers, the ones that are the most vocal that have a complaint about it, and let’s bring them in and start working through those issues. It has been amazing. We have made so many changes in the last few months. We’re going to launch another version of basically the system in March that will include a lot of things that they were having complaints about. I feel like we’re moving in the right direction and the platform will be great.

My daughter recently had a baby and she literally was supposed to come in and take a test drive, look at a vehicle and the baby came early. She literally went on the platform and completely did everything online. The dealership delivered the vehicle to her house. She did have to sign one paper and that is it. It’s a really incredible platform. She will tell you it was unbelievably simple. This past January wasn’t super robust for sales, but we had 10,000 people go in and set up a vehicle with 25,000 put a vehicle into what we call a garage. The last few months we had 35,000 in sales off of our platform. That’s pretty big. We just need to continue to get stronger.”

Nissan’s Judy Wheeler (left) with Automotive News Executive Editor Jamie Butters. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)

Q: If it’s a quick and easy hand off, you circle back with a second delivery, which I think, is a really fascinating concept. Especially with all the layers of technology that cars can have these days. What’s the second delivery and how does it work?

Wheeler: “A year ago, we launched it on Ariya, which if you’re not familiar is an EV product with a lot of technology. Consumers can only take in so much at one time. They would be willing for maybe an hour to all of the technology. But what we realized is they had a lot of questions afterwards. It’s on an iPad where they go through and do the delivery. Right during that process we say, ‘Can we set up an appointment in the future to come back, we will come to you, and go through any questions or concerns you may have.’ Most customers, I would say about 40 percent right now of the Ariya, are asking for that second delivery. We can meet them wherever they want… their home, their business, Starbucks, you name it, we’ll go there. Most customers will have about an hour’s worth of questions. They’re really asking things about all of the technology, how does this work? How do I use the charging system? How do I locate the charging system? They start having more in-depth questions after they’ve owned the vehicle for one or two weeks. The response rate and the interest rate surveys, they are now 94 percent positive from anyone that’s gone through this. I mean, that’s pretty great.”

Q: It’s a great experience for the customer. They’re getting an extra hour of tutoring from an IT pro or product specialist. What is the ROI for the dealer or for Nissan? Do they get more service loyalty or do they come back and buy a second or third Nissan?

Wheeler: “Right now, we do a reimbursement to the dealers if they use one of their own product specialists. We also offer an outside service where they say, I’m going to use that agent. They come in Nissan-branded clothing and they’re professional. For them, right now it’s pretty much cost neutral. For customers, we believe they will come back and add other Nissan vehicles and tell their friends and neighbors. We’ve been doing it a year. I still feel like it’s a little early. We’re going to add more products. We’re going to be adding our model year Rogue, it’s got a lot of technology in the next few months. Now, we’re going to have a lot more volume.”

Q: The brand funds it through the dealer. You’re really doing it to enhance people’s experience and image of the brand. Word of mouth is good way to sell a car as any. 

Wheeler: “It’s not that expensive for us to do. It builds brand loyalty. That is so important in our business.”

The 2023 Nissan Ariya offers a range of up to 304 miles from its 87-kWh battery pack. There are eight different trims offered with all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. It can go from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.8 on select trims. The MSRP starts at $43,190 before delivery charges.

Q: What’s your sense of how the Ariya is being received? I saw it in Tokyo in 2019 when it was first revealed. It was jaw-droppingly beautiful. Since then, that whole segment has gotten really crowded. Tesla has been slashing their prices by $20,000. Is there anything you’re trying to do to improve its exposure?

Wheeler: “It’s interesting because this has gotten so competitive. I think customers are committed to going EV but they’re not 100 percent in there because finding a charger that’s working properly, how do they respond in cold weather, I like it, but maybe it’s not for me so I’ll do a hybrid instead. We’re learning along the way. The big thing for us, we learned with Ariya, is we need to get people in the vehicle because it is gorgeous. It really gets down to: Does it fit for the customer financially? Are they ready to commit to an EV? Our big thing right now where we’re finding success is… customers need to drive the vehicle. That’s where we’re focusing. Once they do that, it’s a much simpler process. The other thing is customers are coming in, they may be in a vehicle from three or four years ago, had like crazy interest rate and probably a really good payment, figured out we are able to put those customers into an Ariya. Because from a payment perspective, it’s actually an affordable choice. We went, oh, this is a little bit of a sweet spot that we have found so we’ll continue to work on that as well.”

The divisional Vice President of Nissan U.S. is referring to the automaker’s SignatureFLEX lease program where consumers can take advantage of the $7,500 federal EV tax credit and get a low monthly payment.

For more info about the Nissan Ariya EV, visit:

video by Jason Rzucidlo / AmericaJR

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