Want a car that families love? Ask a mom to design it.
That’s what Nissan did in appointing Robin Moreo to product planner for the brand’s crossovers and SUVs. So it’s not surprising to hear her say her favorite feature in the Nissan Armada might be the cargo bin that can be popped out of the center console and tossed into the dishwasher. Or that she loves the light upholstery and the dark carpeting on the 2017 Nissan Rogue because it hides all the things your kids spill. Or the center row seats that are adjustable so you can move the seat–and the baby in her car seat – forward so you can reach her from the front seat.
We got a chance to ride with her in the 2017 Armada; hear what she had to say on our Periscope live stream.
As a senior manager of product planning, Robin is a key player on the team that innovates and perfects these features to ensure that families have what they need in their cars.
Mom first, but thriving in a male-dominated world
Robin is just like any other busy mom. With a 9 year old son and a 6 year old daughter, she balances the all too familiar challenges of family life and a career. But add to that a career in a historically male-dominated world, the automotive industry, and it’s a bigger challenge: it can be tough to navigate when there aren’t a lot of other women to support you. But those days are changing thanks to women like Robin.
Over her 19 years with Nissan Robin has held several roles. She started at Nissan’s Technical Center for North America in Farmington Hills, Michigan as a Senior Project Engineer where she was responsible for structure design. From there she moved into product planning as the Manager for Technical Planning of Specialty Vehicles. She also served as Senior Manager for Accessory Product Planning before moving into her current role as Senior Manager of Product Planning in April 2015.
Motherhood or career? Or both – the right choice
“When my son was born, I remember being so happy to be a mom. But as much as I craved having that child in my life, I dreaded the day when I would have to put him in day care,” says Robin. But she always knew she would.
“I need to work to be as sharp of mind as I can be. And I like showing my kids that it’s OK to be a mom who still has a career. I also know that I’m showing my daughter that I can be a strong confident woman and still raise a family.”
Through the years of her life as a wife and mother of two, Robin has never given up her sense of self. “I’m not being fair to my family if I’m not fair to myself. Kids look to their parents to understand how they should interact with society and if I’m not true to myself who will they look to?”
Robin’s path to automotive creates new opportunities for her husband, too
Robin’s dad was in the Army which required the family to move often. Ultimately his career led the family to the Detroit, Michigan area where Robin graduated from high school and attended the University of Detroit Mercy where she studied mechanical engineering. “I’m good at math and science, so mechanical engineering was an ideal fit.”
After spending many years working in Michigan, Robin moved to Nashville, Tennessee with Nissan, which has its US headquarters there. But moving her family–and her husband, who had a career in Michigan– was a big question. Her husband Bob is an architect and he’d seen work in Michigan dwindle. “When the opportunity came for me to transfer to Nashville, my husband was OK with it; his transition has been great. He’s blossoming in Tennessee where he works for the state doing research and proposals.”
The challenge at Nissan: Getting into the minds of the consumers
As the Senior Manager for Product Planning, Robin’s job is to understand the customer and build the cars they want. Armed with data on consumer market trends, she gives Nissan a competitive edge in the industry. “We try to figure out what consumers will want in the next generation of vehicles for their lives.”
Then, she has to take the products that Nissan develops globally and adapt them for the US market. In developing the 2017 Armada, Robin knew the full-size SUV segment has remained popular, the industry selling 250,000 units a year, and it would be a hit if she could fill it with the things that families want and need. “We knew there would always be families with three or four kids who need larger cars despite gas prices.” Robin’s role is to get into the mindset of those customers to determine what features and support they will need for their vehicles.
“The Nissan Armada family has 2+ kids, parents typically in their mid-40s, so the kids are a little older. The family will use the vehicle daily for family things like sports events but also for date nights, shopping or to tow a boat.”
Updating the Armada to for families who need an SUV
Things that appeal most to families might be running boards so kids and older passengers can easily get in and out, center row captains chairs, and of course, plenty of cargo space, cup holders, USB ports and storage nooks for things like phones, charge cords and tablets.
But the Armada is a also a vehicle for drivers who lead an adventurous life. “One lady we talked to is a lawyer, but she wants to drive a substantial vehicle on the weekends because she hunts,” Robin said. So the capability for off road, cargo space and comfort are important, too.
The Rogue customer: The same, but different
Robin’s work didn’t (and won’t!) stop with the Armada. As she was working on the redesign of the Armada, she was also tackling the update of the Rogue, poised to be Nissan’s number one seller. Even more popular with families for its smaller size and flexible space, Robin had to understand the similarities and differences between the Armada and Rogue buyers. Rogue buyers tend to have younger kids, perhaps live in more urban areas and need more flexibility with interior space.
Putting her thought into how customers use the car, Robin championed things like the ‘divide and hide’ cargo system that lets drivers carve up the cargo space with dividers, to the motion activated kick gate, the third row option and sliding second row seats that create more cargo space or can be positioned close to the front seat so front row passengers can reach a baby in the second row.
Is the car biz all in the family? Perhaps!
So the big question that remains to be seen: Will Robins kids take the cue from their mom and be drawn to the auto business, too? Like many young boys, Robin’s son is into sports and Pokémon. “He hasn’t entered the car phase yet.” But I’m betting he’ll be impressed with all his Mom knows when he does!
And her daughter? Well, she’s only 6 but she sounds a little like a mini-Robin. “My daughter is into science and math and we talk about physics,” Robin says proudly.
If her kids have the chance to see her in action, picking apart the interior of a car and reassembling it so customers love it, they might not be able to help falling in love with the car business, too.