When organizers for the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal announced the hugely popular event’s highly anticipated return, Nissan Canada saw it as an opportunity to both motivate and reconnect with its Canadian dealer base.
The automaker hosted 42 dealer personnel from across Canada in Montreal over the Canadian Grand Prix weekend in June, which was the reward for a customer service-focused dealer contest that it held from the beginning of March until the end of April. The contest was not based on sales numbers, but rather on customer feedback and other key performance indicators (KPIs) for customer service. This included how consumers perceived the sales and aftersales experience, as well as other so-called “key behaviours” like the vehicle delivery experience.
Nissan Canada president Steve Milette told AutoTrader that getting dealers motivated to meet certain goals is easy when attending a prestigious event like F1, which had not been held in Canada for two years due to the pandemic, is potentially on the line.
“A lot of [our dealers] are race fans and they are certainly automotive enthusiasts, and so anytime you speak of F1 you get their attention,” Milette said on the sidelines of the Grand Prix. “It’s something they value and they will strive to hit whatever KPIs you put in front of them. They’ll be competitive because they are competitive by nature, and it’s something they actually want to win.”
While not involved in Formula 1 directly, Nissan Canada’s own Sentra Cup series served as the support race for the weekend, acting as a sort of halftime show when the F1 cars weren’t on track. The series hosted two races in Montreal, one on Saturday and one on Sunday, with Quebec driver Simon Charbonneau victorious in Race 1 and Edmonton's Stefan Rzadzinski taking the top spot in Race 2. One of the top-scoring drivers from the weekend was Quebec's Valerie Limoges, one of two women drivers in the field, who finished third in both races and now sits second in the championship standings.
This on-track presence with Sentra Cup gave Nissan a good excuse to set up a display tent in the Sentra Cup paddock and display the new Z sports car, which also serves as the pace car for the Sentra Cup series, at Canada’s biggest sporting event. Naturally, the display attracted crowds of onlookers eager to see the new Z before it hits Canadian dealers later this year.
The COVID-19 pandemic prevented Nissan from hosting dealer meetings, and auto shows were also taken off the table completely. As a result, Milette said his dealers were asking the automaker to host an in-person, face-to-face team-building event after two years of email and Zoom calls left them feeling a bit distant from the brand and the industry as a whole. The Canadian Grand Prix, therefore, represented a key opportunity for Nissan to spend time with these dealers in a fun, low-stress environment.
“The dealers are asking us for opportunities to go and meet their colleagues,” Milette said. “They haven’t been to conventions in a long time, they haven’t been to auto shows in a long time, and so this created one more opportunity to reconnect us with them, but reconnect them with each other as well.”
“We’re a product business, but we’re a people business,” he added. “It’s very difficult to align on strategy and culture if you don’t do the face-to-face. There’s only so much Zoom you can do.”
Nissan sees the success of its Grand Prix weekend as evidence that in-person events, including the Canadian auto show circuit, should be on its radar following two years of pandemic-related shutdowns and setbacks.
“We’re planning the auto show circuit. We have a dealer convention that we’ve planned in October, which really was a dealer request,” he said. “Definitely our dealers want to be live with us, and this is the first of many to come.”