Nissan's Thomas gets an offer he can't refuse

Douglas A. Bolduc is managing editor at Automotive News Europe.Douglas A. Bolduc is managing editor at Automotive News Europe.
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Nissan Europe sales and marketing boss Simon Thomas has been a key to a resurgence at the brand, which is so full of confidence now that it has vowed to overtake Toyota as Europe's top-selling Japanese automaker within three years.

Nissan will have to achieve the goal without Thomas, who will head to an unnamed competitor after finishing with his current employer on Thursday.

In an e-mail exchange, Thomas told me he's had a "wonderful" 20 years with Nissan. He also praised the company, the people and the fighting spirit at the automaker.

"It was the hardest decision of my life to leave, but I've been given an exciting new opportunity that seems right at this time in my career," Thomas said.

Nissan is one of the hottest brands in Europe and a lot of its success is due to Thomas. Since taking on his current role in 2007, Thomas and his sales and marketing team have increased Nissan's European market share a full point -- to 2.9 percent from 1.9 percent. Popular models such as the Qashqai have pushed Nissan's European sales to 403,311 last year from 311,794 in 2007, according to industry association ACEA.

In the first five months of this year, Nissan's new-car sales in Europe are up 22 percent to 206,314, ACEA data shows.

Nissan has named Paul Willcox as its new European sales and marketing chief. He starts Friday.

One of the things that Willcox and Thomas have in common is that both men spent time leading Nissan's UK national sales company. Willcox will leave that job to succeed Thomas. Time will tell if Willcox will be able to build on Thomas' achievements, but it seems like a pretty safe bet he will given that Nissan has a young lineup (10 new or refreshed models have debuted since March 2010) and a fast-growing dealer network (400 new sales points will be active within three years).

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