Nissan sidesteps disasters to rise 17 percent in '11
NASHVILLE -- Nissan Division has posted the highest U.S. vehicle sales year in its history, despite slogging through the Japanese earthquake and tsunami that hampered industry supply lines for months.
The brand closed 2011 with 944,073 new car and truck sales, a 17.3 percent increase over 2010.
Al Castignetti, Nissan Division vice president of sales, says Nissan benefited from a strategic decision to refocus the brand's attention on models that were not held back by Japanese parts and production problems.
In one case, Nissan created an ad campaign for the U.S.-built Frontier compact pickup -- the truck's first campaign in four years. As a result Frontier sales rose 28 percent to 51,700 for the year.
The strategy led to gains among some older North American-built models, including the Sentra, which rose 22 percent, and the Pathfinder SUV, which increased 21 percent. Both are in the last year of their model cycle.
Nissan also took advantage of production interruptions at its chief competitors, Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., to produce more mid-sized Altima sedans. Altima sales rose 17 percent to reach 268,981 for the year. By comparison, Toyota Camry sales were down 6 percent.
"The fact that we could realize these gains in light of the challenges we faced -- the earthquake and tsunami, the fear of a double-dip recession, the worries about the economic problems in Europe -- is actually pretty remarkable," Castignetti says.
Market share gain
Overall, Nissan Motor Co.'s U.S. sales rose 15 percent last year to 1.04 million units, giving the automaker 8.2 percent of the market, up from 7.8 percent in 2010.
Sales for Nissan Motor's luxury Infiniti brand fell back 5 percent for the year to 98,461 sales. The decline was largely a result of the earthquake, since all Infiniti models are imported from Japan. But it was also because of aggressive U.S. marketing by European luxury competitors such as Audi and BMW in the months after the March disaster.
"Our sales were down, but not as much as our Japanese competitors," says Ben Poore, Infiniti Business Unit vice president. "We concentrated on the models we could get quicker and where we could make the best gains. As a result, we saw increases in the G sedan and in the QX SUV."
Infiniti increased its ad spending in December in a bid to regain ground that Poore believes it lost to the Europeans during the year. He said the stepped-up marketing will carry on through the winter.
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