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Thank you Nissan; but will history repeat itself? (3)

By Dele Sobowale

The activities of oil thieves in Nigeria are currently telling on the output of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries in terms of depleting oil exports.” PUNCH, June 18, 2014, p 29.

Part two of this series touched on the critical role of the price of crude oil in the success, or otherwise, of the NISSAN Assembly plant – as well as others about to start up again. It is vital to point out that the price of crude might not be the only variable which can have a significant impact on the survival of the assembly plants.

Decline in crude oil exports could also produce the same result. Today, the share of OPEC producers in global oil trade is declining and that of non-OPEC members is rising. Thus even when crude oil prices have stayed above $110 per barrel for over a month, the aggregate revenue had been declining steadily. All tiers of government in Nigeria are already feeling the heat. Public servants are now owed several months’ salaries in several states.

The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, which had tried, in vain, to avoid steep devaluation of the naira and the inevitable high inflation that would result is on the verge of caving in. Governments and their officials which constitute the largest market segment for automobiles are getting ready to slash expenditure on vehicles. This is one problem NISSAN and others will have to watch carefully.

Nigerians are unquestionably in love with their sports teams, especially the Super Eagles. They are also increasingly becoming fond of their entertainment sector from singers to Nollywood. But, those two have probably exhausted the list of products and services, entirely home-grown, about which Nigerians are enthusiastic. Beyond those, the aversion to products manufactured in Nigeria is almost national.

Perhaps because Nigerians know themselves, they find it difficult to believe that the same carefree neighbours, now working for a manufacturer can rise above himself and become a global competitor in terms of knowledge, skills and attitude – especially, attitude.

Given a NISSAN imported from Japan which retails for ten to fifteen percent more that the locally assembled vehicle, most Nigerians will gladly pay the difference to buy imported NISSAN. That attitude will not change soon – even with total government support. Unfortunately, government support seldom is total; neither can it be guaranteed to last the number of years required to convince Nigerians that Made In Nigeria NISSAN is as good as imported NISSAN. The same is true of every brand about to be assembled here.

The first thing to do is to acknowledge the fact that overcoming the perceived quality superiority of imports will not be easy; neither will it come about in a few years. Those who have made these investments must have patient capital which can be deployed for a decade or more. If domestic cable and cement manufacturers are still struggling to be accepted as attaining the same quality standards as imports, after almost thirty or more years in the business, car manufacturers should also expect a long struggle.

However, there have been some remarkable victories by local brands competing against imports in the past. In the food and beverages sector, particularly brewery industry, brands like STAR and GULDER have overcome the original resistance by consumers who had grown up preferring HEINEKENS, BECKS, CALRSBERG etc.

Today, even Heineken is still a distant fourth or fifth to STAR and GULDER which remain the top two nationwide. The question the NISSAN management should be asking is: how did they succeed against established imports? Fortunately, the secrets are still available for use by a new generation of marketing and salesmen and women handling the NISSAN brand.

At the core of those success stories is IMITATION and how the brewers used it to convert Nigerians to local beer brands. Incidentally, with communications networks so primitive in the 1950s, it was about five years before the local brands started to make any headway. Given today’s ICT, it will be possible for a local manufacturer to make significant headway.

But, like their great grandparents and grandparents in the 1950s, Nigerians today need to be jolted and persuaded with the right message – the sort to which they are susceptible. In very many fundamental ways, the Nigerian consumer is not radically different from the consumer of 1960, 1970 and 1980. So, there is hope.

As Oglivy, the great advertising guru said decades ago, NISSAN is promoting its products to a “moving parade” comprising in each generation of people whose tendencies have changed very little. That is the best news NISSAN can have to give hope that this venture will succeed. It is in their interest as well as ours.

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