April 2, 2012
One Year On from 3/11: Interview with Nissan Prince Miyagi’s Hiroyuki Sato
In June 2011, we interviewed Hiroyuki Sato, general manager at Nissan Prince Miyagi, just three months after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami devastated much of the Tohoku region. Last week, we caught up with Sato-san once again to discuss progress made over the last year.
General Manager Sato:
Looking back to last March, we hadn’t moved the office here yet and struggled to find how a way to recover from the situation.
By early April, we had found that it’s hard to restart operations with the office, so we decided to move it to the different site where we were storing tires and started using it as our temporary office.
With just three or four heaters to keep warm, we were doing car maintenance and had no choice but to serve our customers there for a time. But we felt it’s not appropriate to keep serving customers there, so we made a prefabricated space where we could welcome customers.
We had no option but to recover step by step. I think this outlet, which is the local headquarters, moved with the quickest action among the others in the area.
There are 19 outlets. The Tagajo, Shiogama, Ishinomaki, Ishinomaki Minato and Kesennuma branches were damaged by the earthquake and tsunami, while used-car outlets in Ishinomaki Car Palace and Tagajo were also damaged.
The worst hit was Ishinomaki Minato, where I used to work. That outlet was completely washed away. Ishinomaki Minato had 12 or 13 employees and they were transferred to the Ishinomaki branch.
The two branches have now been merged [temporarily] and the Ishinomaki branch is very crowded.
The employees at the affected outlets gathered the day after the disaster to start cleaning up the showroom and helping customers as quickly as possible. Before head office even gave any directions they proactively started resuming operations.
Q3. Last year you mentioned that because the roads weren’t good, people were looking for used cars as a temporary means of transportation. What is the situation now?
It depends on the region. At that time, immediately after the quake, they had no means of transportation so people asked us for any car that moves, whether it was new or used, so we tried really hard to deliver cars to them as fast as we can. Thanks to support from our colleagues in various parts of Japan, we were able to meets customers’ needs.
The situation has become more settled, but people living in temporary accommodation cannot buy new cars and others who lost their homes cannot buy cars before they rebuild their homes. There are certain people who still cannot buy new cars.
Because the demand for used cars was high there were some cars in bad condition that were sent here. Some of those people who bought those cars have now taken advantage of state subsidies to buy a new car.
Q4. It seems very busy for a Wednesday afternoon. Are you getting many customers?
Yes, our strategy is to increase showroom traffic by inviting people to visit the dealership. Our president, Kobayashi-san, has told us to proactively approach customers, make proposals, and let them choose the best car for them.
We are not only selling cars, but proactively trying to meet customers’ needs, including offering repair work, quick checks and insurance. That’s why, as you can see, our showroom is very crowded even on a weekday. On Saturdays and Sundays, we expect even more customers.
We believe that the showroom and workshop is an appropriate place for those activities, such as advising on insurance while the car is being repaired.
Here’s a link to our interview with Sato-san a year ago.