Sun | Jun 24, 2018

Facelift for Fidelity as new-car competition heats up

Published:Friday | January 5, 2018 | 12:00 AMHuntley Medley
Major Gregory Webster, managing director of Fidelty Motors Limited, holds up a picture of what the upgraded Nissan dealership will look like. The dealership will undergo eight months of renovations starting April 2018.
Fidelity Motors Limited, dealer for Nissan vehicles in Jamaica, on Hanover Street in Kingston is about to get a facelift.
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Nissan dealer Fidelity Motors plans a major facelift of its Hanover Street sales office, showroom and service centre in downtown Kingston, even as rivals stake out territory uptown.

By April, Fidelity will launch construction of a new-look complex, which the company is promising will have a 'dramatic' feel designed for customer comfort.

"We are downtown to stay," said Major Gregory Webster, Fidelity's managing director, even while declining to disclose the size of the investment to be made.

The asserted loyalty to downtown comes in the wake of Toyota adding a spanking new, modern showroom on Old Hope Road, for $400 million, near the foothills of Beverly Hills; and ATL Automotive just completing a US$15-million showroom for its BMW and Mini franchises on the edge of the upscale area of Kingston, known as the Golden Triangle.

Fidelity's project will follow a blueprint set out by Japanese carmaker Nissan Motor.

"There is a plan you have to follow that they send to you," said Webster. "There will be a dramatic change in keeping with what is happening (in the industry) - you have to be relevant," he said.

New showroom features will include touch-screen TVs and tablet vehicle stands. The renovation will involve all 96,200 square feet of space, including garage, body shop and redone street pavements.

"It will be significant," Webster said. The site on which the dealership sits is itself valued at more than $200 million.

Construction is expected to last eight months, starting from April. Car sales and service activities will continue throughout the upgrade, which is expected to deliver a sleeker, more modern look, styled showroom and additional space for rolling stock and new models.

A new line of vehicles made by Chinese-Japanese alliance Zhengzhou Nissan Auto, ZNA, should have its own showroom on additional land owned by Fidelity nearby at the corner of Harbour and Hanover streets. The ZNA line, which Fidelity market-tested in August this year, will consist mainly of pickup trucks.

The changes at Fidelity Motors will also see the company returning to its sale and servicing of UniCarriers hand trucks and full-size forklifts.

Fidelity is owned by listed Barbados company Goddard Enterprises Limited, which also operates Nissan dealerships in Barbados, St Lucia and St Vincent. Up to 2009, Fidelity Motors was a joint venture between Goddard and Jamaica's GraceKennedy Limited. In fact, the car dealer's downtown location was in part determined by its proximity to the GraceKennedy headquarters.

While accepting that at the outset Fidelity suffered some perception disadvantage as a result of its downtown location, the car dealer's managing director, who helped set up the company, says Fidelity has distinguished itself and earned significant repeat business though quality service.

Webster noted that a seven-month experiment with a sales outlet uptown, in Barbican, some years ago was short-lived as staff preferred the downtown location, and Fidelity wanted its clients to have a feel of downtown, at the point of purchase, so that they would be comfortable taking their vehicles there for servicing.

While the company was at a mindset disadvantage in the past, business has continued to grow, helped in part by the return and pending relocation to downtown of other businesses and offices, including Digicel, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and several law firms, while GraceKennedy and the Jamaica Stock Exchange have operated successfully downtown for many years.

Webster says Fidelity has been differentiating itself with superior service and a strong presence on electronic media platforms, including its website, social media and the redevelopment of its mobile phone app.

While the response to the new ZNA vehicles has been described as "lukewarm," Webster said sales of Nissan vehicles have been growing, outpacing performance in some previous years when there was a general fall-off in the new-car market in Jamaica.

"The economy is improving and we are getting back to where we were four or five years ago," Webster said, but stopped short of giving his estimate of the company's share of the car market in Jamaica.

He noted that the local market is affected by variables such as the exchange rate and government duty structure. As the global motor vehicle industry undergoes major changes, including new models and the move towards green vehicles hybrid plug-ins and fully electrical autos the Fidelity head is disappointed that the duty structure in Jamaica does not encourage any significant introduction of that technology at this time.

Still, he is hopeful that the efforts of the Jamaica Public Service Company to promote clean vehicles will receive the support of the Government.

Fidelity has only one base in Jamaica, and while it is not discounting the possibility of extending its products and services to locations beyond Kingston, Webster said there are no plans to establish any other outlets or offices elsewhere anytime soon.

For the time being, Fidelity's service arrangement with Western Wheel Alignment in Montego Bay will continue, as will its roadshows, through which the dealership takes its products as well as sales and service staff to potential customers all over Jamaica.

huntley.medley@gleanerjm.com