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Developing a Customer-Centric Dealer Network with Dan Mohnke from Nissan USA

Updated: Jul 16


Dan Mohnke

Dan Mohnke is the Vice President of E-Commerce at Nissan USA. He is responsible for driving Nissan's e-commerce strategies and initiatives to support evolving customer needs, industry changes, and Nissan brand differentiation through a true end-to-end digital customer experience.

Before joining Nissan USA, Dan was the Manager for the Leadership Development Program at Home Depot. He also served as the Manager for Retail Strategies, Dealer Network Development, Regional Operations, and Consumer Affairs at Saturn. He holds an MBA from Michigan State University and a Bachelor's degree in marketing and management from Northwood University.



Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Dan Mohnke talks about leading the e-commerce team at Nissan USA

  • How Dan got started in the automotive industry and his experience working with the Saturn brand

  • Dan talks about his reasons for leaving the auto industry to work at Home Depot and his transition to Nissan USA

  • The most interesting DIY project Dan has completed

  • Dan discusses Nissan@Home, the company's vision for it, and its adoption rate among Nissan's dealers

  • What is the infrastructure Nissan is building to make car shopping easier?

  • The feedback Nissan has been receiving from its dealers about Nissan@Home and why it makes sense for dealers to drive retail car sales

  • Does Nissan USA have regional autonomy or do they share ideas with Nissan Japan?

  • Dan's thoughts on the biggest challenges for the automotive industry in the next 12-18 months


In this episode…


For a long time, Nissan USA has been focusing on developing an efficient dealer network to streamline communication and sell to customers more effectively. Nissan USA is a customer and dealer-focused company that has been helping its customers test drive, buy, and service cars from the comfort of their homes through their recently launched purchasing tool, Nissan@Home.


Nissan USA knows the value of addressing customer pain points by coming up with solutions to fix those problems. They also value the work done by their dealers and make a point to collaborate with their dealerships to provide the best services for car buyers. How do they do this? By giving their dealers control of their inventory, pricing, and deal structures, among other things.


In this episode of the InsideAuto Podcast, co-hosts Aharon Horwitz & Ilana Shabtay are joined by Dan Mohnke, the Vice President of E-Commerce at Nissan USA, to talk about Nissan’s innovative infrastructure for improving car shopping. Dan explains why they value and partner with their dealers and talks about the traction they have seen from the Nissan@Home purchasing tool.


Resources Mentioned in this episode


Sponsor for this episode...


This episode is brought to you by AutoLeadStar, a company that helps car dealerships engage quality customers on the web and convert them into car buyers.


Co-founded by Aharon Horwitz, Yishai Goldstein, and Eliav Moshe, AutoLeadStar’s state-of-the-art software automates a dealership’s entire marketing funnel and provides around-the-clock service for dealers.


AutoLeadStar’s innovative technology helps dealerships automate ads, connect with customers, and discover ROI and performance metrics


Visit their website at www.autoleadstar.com to learn more about their around-the-clock marketing service.


Episode Transcript


Intro 0:03

Welcome to InsideAuto Podcast where we feature everyone and anyone you'd want to talk to you in and out of the automotive industry.

Ilana Shabtay 0:14

Ilana Shabtay here with Aharon Horwitz, co-hosts of InsideAuto Podcast, where we interview top dealers, GMs, marketers and entrepreneurs in and out of the automotive industry. And before we introduce today's guest, this episode is sponsored by AutoLeadStar.com. The AutoLeadStar platform is built on a technology so powerful, it allows you to market, sell and service cars as you would in the real world at scale, online, making one to one matches between shoppers and inventory. AutoLeadStar is the only platform that is powered by scale, speed, and specificity to change the way dealers do marketing today. All right, and we are back, Aharon. How are you doing today?

Aharon Horwitz 0:56

Oh, my Ilana, it has been a while hasn't it? Since you've been on? We've been working hard. And I've been relaxing. So I'm happy to be back. Hey, listen, I'm also really excited for today's guest. And this is an amazing opportunity for us because the person we're going to speak with is Dan Mohnke, who is the VP of E-Commerce at Nissan USA. And why I'm so excited, Dan, to have you on the show today, is that you know you're sitting in that seat called e-commerce 10 years ago, those two things together.

Dan Mohnke 1:25

You're absolutely right. Absolutely right. It's an exciting time. And it's an exciting chair to be sitting in. But you're right. It's changing times for us.

Aharon Horwitz 1:34

Yeah, so it actually is, in a lot of ways. It's probably one of the most sensitive chairs in any OEM right to be sitting on that e-commerce pulse and how you dance between the raindrops of the different tiers and how consumers buy right. That's complicated. It is and it really depends on your approach right now.

Dan Mohnke 1:50

Nissan's approach has always been dealer centered. So I think being dealer centered, though, makes it much more straightforward. As far as what we're trying to accomplish. Now, other OEMs may have a different approach that makes it a little bit more complicated. But being dealer centered, I think we're aligned with the dealer network, and it really all moving in the same direction with one goal. Awesome.

Aharon Horwitz 2:11

So we're excited to talk about that. And we're gonna ask you about where you think things are moving and, and what you're seeing and a little bit about Nissan@Home and just kind of bring you bringing us up to speed on what's happening in the Nissan network where there's a lot of, frankly, I think cutting edge experimentation going on that others can learn from, we want to first hear about you, right? That's what we like to do. Like,

Ilana Shabtay 2:33

We like getting on the phone.

Aharon Horwitz 2:35

Okay, we want to have a story from someone who pulled a platinum leg out of a river and where he was diving and we've had crazy stories here. So feel free to get crazy or not, you know, it depends. But I was interested in any louder you can get the next question, but I noticed that you, you were involved with the Saturn brand back in the day, right? Back in the day. About that, like, how did you get into Otto? And then do you miss Saturn? Like there? Was that? Is that a brand that should have survived? Because it's a cool name, right?

Dan Mohnke 3:10

Yeah. No, it's a good question. In fact, many of my close friends, we still keep in touch on Saturdays because there was such a bond there. But yeah, so I've a little bit of background on me. So you have 30 years in the auto industry, half of my career was with Saturn. And then the other half with Nissan. You know, I got involved in Saturn very early on in the early days of Saturn. And you remember kind of, probably the Saturdays where you know, Saturn homecoming, and we had a cult like following consumers. And it was very special. And I think what made it special was the approach to business, right. And it was a very customer focused approach to business. Very dealer partnership approach to business, working with the dealer partners, really kind of in one mission. And, and that was a special time I started back in Saturn, actually in a call center. So very, very close to the customer. And that was that your first gig out of college like what that was the first gig out of college first gig out of college I and actually, you know, it's funny how roads lead back to the same place. But I started back in 91, with Saturn moved from Michigan down to Tennessee, to start Saturn in Tennessee. Well now I'm sitting here in Tennessee with Nissan. So it's, it's very much roads lead to the same place, but in the same focus because what I liked about Saturn and what's always stuck with me, was that customer focus, right and and it was on the experience. There wasn't an e-commerce focus, right or a digital focus, but it was about the experience. And it was about the customer. And it was giving them the best experience. That's possible. And that's that, you know, starting in the assistance center helping customers working with dealers from there, and then various sales and marketing positions. You know, I had 14 years with Saturn. So it very much ingrained in me kind of this customer focus. And that's really I think what I'm leveraging as I move into is I've been working on things with Nissan is that customer focus?

Ilana Shabtay 5:25

And it looks like in between Saturn and Nissan, you had a little bit of time at Home Depot, is that correct?

Dan Mohnke 5:31

Yeah, there was another interesting change. So I dipped my toe outside of the auto industry. So this was after I went back as it was a crazy time as I had. We had two young kids and I went back and got my master's degree. Michigan State goes to the Spartans. So after that, I said, Well, you know what, I'm gonna try something else. And I was always a do it yourselfer. That's just that I like to get my hands dirty, do things. You know, I've done a lot of various different projects, you know, rehabbing houses this and that. But it was interesting to me. So I went into kind of a leadership program with Home Depot. But I tell you what, I went there. And while I loved the company, I loved the business. I missed auto. I mean, I really missed out on once it gets into your blood. I think it's hard to get away, you know, and so, yeah. Yeah, yeah, it was. So I had a desire to get back into the auto industry. And so when I was I was up in Michigan and looking for Okay, what's the opportunity, next opportunity, maybe get back in the auto industry and this opportunity with Nissan came, which so happened, Nissan was moving their headquarters from California to Tennessee. I was very familiar with Tennessee. And I figured this sounds like a great opportunity. Great company. Great opportunity.

Aharon Horwitz 6:53

That's fantastic. And well, first of all, before we talk about Nissan a bit, what is something interesting that you've built in the past 10 years any what's what's one DIY thing you've done that you're externally

Dan Mohnke 7:04

The one that I think maybe maybe folks were the most impressed with was over one of our houses in the back patio, I built this huge pergola really by myself, so I had to figure out with ropes and this and that how to get these large beams up there and do that my wife helped a little bit but built this huge pergola in the backyard of course, there was there was permitting involved in all of that, because you had to it had to be safe and had to comply with codes and all of that. So that was probably the biggest one, but then a lot of different small stuff of just everything from laying hardwood floors to dry walling to electrical, a little bit of electrical, that scares me a little bit. But one of the ones I don't like though, the most, because I never get it right is plumbing. There's always a leak afterwards. I don't like that.

Aharon Horwitz 7:53

What do you like, are you a handy person? You're not?

Ilana Shabtay 7:57

Oh, absolutely not? No, not even like IKEA Ready to go? I can't. It's really sad. I got to get better at that.

Aharon Horwitz 8:06

Yeah, I always have these like, you know, heart palpitations when my mother in law or mom by my kids, Playmobil or LEGO sets, cuz Obviously, I'm going to be the one setting them up right now. And I'm just, you know, I got to follow all the directions and understand that it's a gift, I think to be good at that stuff. So yeah. And I think, interestingly, on the theme of DIY, the auto industry has a lot of DIY, right, we're, we're I feel like when you're looking at a person's second largest purchase, and you're trying to figure out how digital implicates that, and what the customer experience needs to look like and in the complexity of the ecosystem. And you know, if you have a Northstar, like the dealers of the North Stars, I think you said, then it becomes a little easier. But nonetheless, it's still complicated. So we were really interested when Mike was on where we were, I think Ilana was at day one of the Nissan@Home launch, like month one, it was like, right at the beginning.

Ilana Shabtay 9:08

I think it was literally like the day after he sat home with lunch. He talked a little bit about the program. But we said hey, let's come back after a couple of months and hear about the traction.

Aharon Horwitz 9:17

And it's just we basically broke the news to the world that Nissan@Home is launching. You know, our announcement actually approved it. But anyways, what we want to hear though, is what to remind our listeners, what is it? What's your vision with it? What's happening with it? What's the traction? Like? What can we learn from it about where the trend lines are pointing?

Dan Mohnke 9:38

Yeah. Okay, so that's Yeah, let me go in a little bit of background and he sat at home. So it's really we call it an ecosystem of solutions for the consumer again, back to very consumer focused. And we have three digital products that we have launched. There's Nissan@Home, which is kind of the umbrella. Then we have to buy at home, drive at home and service at home, which are three individual digital products serving three different needs that consumers have. But the whole vision behind it is really addressing the kind of historical customer pain points that we know exist in the auto industry and, and the why behind it, I think has to do with what we see, what everybody sees with that changing retail landscape. You know, like last year, was the first year that millennials stopped buying new car purchasers. So they out purchased new vehicles, more than baby boomers for the first time ever last year. Right. So you got this whole new generation, and that's the first digital native generation, right? A whole new generation that is digital natives that is buying more cars than anybody else. And right behind them as Gen Z. Right? So that's kind of the why behind it, everything, you know, the whole retail landscape has changed. And so we looked at this and said, okay, consumers are wanting more than what we're doing to them. And so we, you know, we want to address these historical customer pain points, like, let me do as much or as little as I want online, you know, don't make me start over. Like, if I do stuff online, don't make me start over when I go talk to the dealer or when I go into the dealership, you know, acknowledge kind of the things I've already done, know where I left off that kind of thing, transparencies of doing business, right. So we've, in partnership with our dealer network, we're launching all three of the year, we've launched all three of these platforms. And the key like we talked about that just initially upfront is that the dealer is at the center of this. And what I mean by that is that we kind of view this as just an online extension of the dealer showroom, it's the dealers business still, right. So they control everything on the back end. So there's not only just the front end for the customer, there's the back end for the dealer. And that's what's key, right, the back end for the dealer, that they can control everything from inventory pricing, f&i, the lenders, they use final deal approval deal structure that they need to, they need to, you know, edit or modify. And then in addition, visibility, right, the dealer can see all the activity that the customers are taking, right? So I tell dealers, it's like, you know, what, when, when a person walks through your front door of your physical showroom, right, you really should view this no different than they're walking through your front door of your, basically your digital showroom. And you have better visibility in this show room than what you have in your physical showroom, because you kind of see what they've been, you know, cars, they've been specking out cars that then you know, estimating payments on the tray that they may be input in there. And, and you have all that visibility, so it's an easy conversation to kind of talk about the next steps of the purchase process. So that's how the dealer kind of becomes in the center is just the visibility and the control that they have. So, and from Nissan's standpoint, again, back to appealing to the consumers, you know, recognizing that the consumer base is changing in the US, you know, by 2030, half of the population will be millennial or Gen Z, right? So, they will have digital needs that we have to fulfill as a brand as a dealer network, etc. Right? So, and so we see it as really this brand differentiator for Nissan to to attract new consumers to the brand to know that we are looking out for their needs, communicate that and communicate an experience that we think they're looking for.

Ilana Shabtay 13:44

And what's that's a great background for people who weren't able to listen to our other podcasts that introduced this. So thank you for that. What is the attraction that can you share with us a little bit about the adoption rate from your Nissan dealers?

Dan Mohnke 13:58

Yeah, we're getting great traction, actually, we already have. And like you said, we've just kind of launched this. And we've got kind of a full rollout plan over the next several months. But we've already had a third of our dealer network enrolled on this. And we're bringing them on board as we speak. In fact, we're already seeing great customer activity, and we're getting feedback from customers on things that they like, you know, like it's saving them time. They like that one stop kind of experience. They like that ease of transaction. So we're getting great progress or great results. Right now. We're starting to see more and more dealers enroll. We've got a third on the network enrolled right now. And that will continue all the way through our marketing launch, which will start in October of this year.

Ilana Shabtay 14:55

I think what you said about consumers coming to the showroom and not having to start over is a really important point because time is so precious. And when we do that research online, and when we're looking at things, and even if we've submitted forms before, being able to go into a dealership and pick off where they left off is probably going to be a game changer. I think in the next couple of years, certainly for millennials and Gen Z and the way that they're used to shopping. Do you? Are you setting up that infrastructure for the Nissan dealers?

Dan Mohnke 15:24

Yeah, exactly. And it's, um, we're setting up and this is kind of very, I would say, advanced thinking in the auto industry, we're just like, people have you have a Google ID, right? You have an Amazon ID, right? We have a Nissan ID. And what that does is that whatever you're interacting with, with Nissan, whether you're a shopper or an owner, you have one ID meaning one vlog on one, one sign on, right? So that as a shopper, you can save your work, like you can save and then come back to it, because it's saved in this account that you have as an owner. Now, if you transition from this shopper into ownership, well, that same account is what you will use for, for your mind the Nissan app that you'll download for you know, your n macros that are kept to finance, right for your captive finance access. So, this, I guess, philosophy of having kind of this one nice on account across the ecosystem, for ease of use of the consumer, right. And then from a dealer standpoint, that makes it extremely easy as well. Because with that, then you have the visibility of that consumer across the ecosystem as well.

Aharon Horwitz 16:37

I'm curious about the reception you're getting, do you experience that? This is the the things that you're saying now, what we're hearing now, when when dealers hear that across your network? Do you get a sense that the dealers get it and they are on board? Are their dealers? What sort of common questions come up, when you're out there evangelizing this vision to the market? In particular, your network? Less so the wall street or the consumers, but more your own dealer network?

Dan Mohnke 17:09

Yeah, no, it's a good question. And, you know, you can't paint the entire network with one broad stroke, because I think you've got just like anything that you're changing, you got different groups of people that kind of get the change. Right. So we've got the early adopters, those are the ones that we got plenty of early adopters that get it, right. They get it, they see it, they see the vision. And you know, they're the first ones on board, and they want to go fast, right? And then and then you've got kind of the I call it late majority, right? And the late majority are okay, I want to see these early adopters kind of have success first. And then I'll come on board. So there, there's, there's, they're kind of in that Yo, right? They're like no, I'm not Yes, I'm not yo but I'm just kind of seeing how things progress here. And then I'll come on board. And then you've got kind of a laggard. Right. And the laggards are the ones that, you know, the internet's a fad. It'll go away. He's calling. And, but I think, you know, we've definitely seen the early adopters. And they came on board. You know, right away, we're starting to get the late majority come on board right now, as far as the dealer's questions, I think the biggest one really is around that dealer control. And I think because they hear so much in the media about other OEMs and their approach and, you know, OEMs, with the intent to go direct and all of that. And so that's Top of Mind, and we get that we get that that's top of mind. Right. But that's not our approach. Right? We think that's the wrong approach. Actually, we think the right approach is with the dealer network.

Aharon Horwitz 18:48

Yeah, it's so interesting, that whole notion because you know, there are countries in the world where dealers are really just delivery depot's right there, their commission agents, they're just handing cars over to consumers and getting paid a certain percentage for that, that work. Whereas in the US that model of dealers, essentially paying the invoice and owning the financing, and then and then it's such a unique model. And I wonder sometimes when I see OEMs other OEMs not speaking about Nissan when I see sometimes they try to centralize orders and run orders to a central processing and then just kind of invoices out to the dealer. It never seems to actually work as well as they think in vision. And you'll see in some of the AMS, like there'll be a model, they'll try it on maybe a limited run model, and then try it again. And over time it kind of fades out. So basically they're just collecting leads for the dealers again, what do you think it is? Why is that the case? Meaning Why do you think it is that at the end of the day in the US it just seems to still make sense for dealers to drive the business when it comes to the retail side?

Dan Mohnke 19:56

Well, I think it gets down to you knowing the basic franchise. Model right, which is very common in the US, right, not just in automotive, but across all brands, right, the franchise model. And the advantage of a franchise model is that the franchise or franchisee I should say the dealer, right? They know that market best, right and they live in that market, they know that market best, they have relationships with their consumers. loyalty is huge. Right? So, the dealer's ability to build loyalty for themselves is the dealer Yes, but then it's for the brand as well. Right? So, I think that's the individual kind of market knowledge. It's that relationship with consumers that dealers build. I think that's the value that they bring. And let's be honest, it's complicated. It's not just selling a vehicle, you got to service the vehicle, right? You've got it, you've got to provide service to consumers. And so it's, and you know, in service is a complicated business, too, you've got to have parts, you got to have parts inventory, you have to have a fast turnaround, right? You've got to have shop capacity. Yeah, all of that stuff, you have to have brick and mortar, and you have to have representation in the local market. That's our philosophy. That's what we feel is best to go to market for the consumer and have a dealer network that is there.

Aharon Horwitz 21:21

And in the case of Nissan, do you find yourself, I'm just curious about this from a, it's interesting to think of a global company with such a massive us? operation? But do you do? Are you over? Have you been able to go to Japan? Like, is that a common practice for executives there to go back and forth? Or is it? Um, is it really just more of a US it's all us just us focused? And there the international angle doesn't really play in? Like, I know, you know, you've got these, most of the OEMs now in the US, in some ways have an international angle like Chrysler now is us the lantis. I always wonder if the ideas from abroad managed to kind of work their way into the US to the US ideas work their way into the international offices, does that happen or not? Is there that cross pollination?

Dan Mohnke 22:06

Yeah, there is, but it's still regional autonomy to write from a standpoint of how each region knows their region best right now. But we do take ideas from this region, this region, honestly, for Nissan is a very strong region, right. And we do have a lot of cutting edge ideas that we try to pollinate across the globe. And Nissan@Home is one of those ideas right now, it may not work in one country or another country. But that doesn't mean that we can't share the ideas, right? And so there is a, there is a sharing of the ideas across the regions. But very much though, there's a focus on regional autonomy to best serve that market and do what's right for that market. So, there is a lot of interaction across the globe, just kind of sharing those best practices, etc. That's great.

Ilana Shabtay 22:58

And I'm interested in hearing your perspective on what you think are going to be some of the biggest challenges in the next, let's say, 12 to 18 months, for the automotive industry. We'd like to ask our podcast guests, because everyone comes with a different angle. So I like to hear my perspective.

Dan Mohnke 23:15

Yeah, no, I appreciate that. And I'll probably come from more of that e-commerce angle. Because I'm sure that then, you know, there's plenty of angles, you could come from supply chain, etc. Right. But from an e-commerce angle, I do think that the challenge in the next, say, 12 to 18 months, first of all, you know, the COVID did accelerate the adoption of e-commerce. Everybody knows me. I've been talking about that. Right. But I don't think that just as kind of COVID settles a little bit, at least here in the US. The focus on e-commerce isn't going away from the consumer standpoint, right? I think it's a permanent change. We've accelerated and I think this new bar is where we're at is the new bar. And I think it's going to continue to accelerate from there, largely because of consumer demands, right? Everybody's just gotten into a lifestyle Now that everything they want to do is digital. And so what does that mean, from the auto industry standpoint? I think it does require a different way of thinking. Right? And, and I hear from some dealers that you know, hey, I'm concerned about e-commerce, because I'm afraid I'm going to lose control as a dealer, right? I'm going to lose control of the deal as the dealer, right. And then other dealers that have embraced e-commerce say, well, the opposite is actually true, right? If you embrace e-commerce, and if you embrace the kind of the data and the visibility that comes with this, you actually gain more visibility and you gain more control. So I do think there's a challenge here of changing paradigms on what e-commerce really is and how advantageous it can be for the dealer themselves, right? And I think, again, you've got different cohorts of dealers, some of them get it, they're already doing that, some of them are kind of studying it and others are kind of late to the party. Maybe maybe they feel like No, they don't, that's just not my market. That doesn't work here. But I'm sorry that I think it isn't their market, it works across the country. Because it's not about a market. It's about the generational change that we're seeing. And I think that the biggest, maybe challenge on the e-commerce front, is just embracing and trying to modify the business practice to accommodate a new way of retailing. And again, I don't think you're changing, you're just changing maybe the location of where things are happening, meaning more digital than online, or then then in store, but you have to kind of change your process, you have to change your thinking. And I'm not saying that everything is always going to be 100%. Online, I think it's this combination, right? I think it's a combination of people starting online, they transition into the dealership, and then you gotta have that process in place that you can take that information from online to the dealership without missing a beat, and just continue with the customer. And I think that's the real area where that's been the sticky point for the consumer.

Aharon Horwitz 26:18

But I think we've solved for here, but I think the industry has to focus on things like that a lot. That reminds me of the golden rule plus plus of our dealer friend, David Long, who always talks to the customer. And one of the many ways that they want to be talked to is that I think, Dan, you're completely right that a conversation flows through many media. And it's important for a modern retail operation to really understand that and be able to accommodate how a person wants to be communicated with. So thank you very much. This was an amazing conversation, really fascinating. If I take anything away from what you said, it's all about customer experience. And I think that you use the word customer, I was trying to count how many times and I was impressed. I was like, there's some, you know, some famous companies around the world, not like Nissan's not that would feel good about this combo with our customer focus. But it's clear that you're bringing that to Nissan and bringing that to the Nissan@Home project and to everything you guys are doing on the e-commerce side as well. We're really grateful we'll check in again, and hopefully hear from you and understand the trends that you've laid out for us, how they're coming into reality over the next year or two and stay in touch with you. And it's been a pleasure Ilana, do you want to wrap us up?

Ilana Shabtay 27:27

Yeah, uh, thank you so much. I second that it's been a super interesting conversation. I love the customer centric conversation. So thanks for bringing that to our podcast and for our listeners. If you liked this episode, InsideAuto Podcast, you can find us on all mainstream outlets. I Heart, Apple, Spotify, and insideautopodcast.com. Thank you so much, Dan, for joining us.

Aharon Horwitz 27:48

Yeah, man a lot. I was thinking, Dan. We people like to listen to Ilana and I like to listen at a 2.5x speed, but we actually speak at like 2x speed. So that would be like 4.5. Dan, I feel like you. You brought us down to earth here with a really good presentation. And we learned a lot and our listeners learned a lot. Thank you so so much. We look forward to the next convo.

Dan Mohnke 28:15

Thank you so much, guys. Nice meeting you.

Outro 28:18

Thanks for listening to the InsideAuto Podcast. Check out our other episodes with top entrepreneurs and industry leaders.