Nissan hires Consumer Reports testing chief David Champion
Champion: Back to Nissan, after 15-year hiatus
Nissan Motor Co. hired David Champion, whose recommendations as the head of auto testing for Consumer Reports have influenced countless car buyers, to help the company ensure its vehicles match up well against competing models.
Champion, who was a quality-assurance engineer at Nissan from 1994 to 1997, will assume a newly created position, executive adviser of competitive assessment and quality, on Sept. 10.
"David Champion's unique industry background will help ensure that the customer's voice is evident in every product we engineer," Carla Bailo, Nissan's senior vice president of research and development, said in a statement today. "His experience in developing robust testing methods will help Nissan keep pace with the increasing complexity of our products and stay focused on continually improving our customer satisfaction ratings."
Champion, a 57-year-old Brit, has been in charge of Consumer Reports' 327-acre Auto Test Center in Connecticut, the largest independent proving ground in the world, since leaving Nissan in June 1997. The opinions of him and his 23-person staff often have played a considerable role in how well vehicles are received by the public. Automakers coveted his advice and the publication's "recommended" label he controlled.
Nissan said Champion will be based at its Arizona Testing Center south of Phoenix. He will report to Steve Monk, director of vehicle evaluation and testing and chief marketability engineer for the Nissan Technical Center North America.
Champion told Automotive News today that he wants to help "make Nissan a world leader" by showing the company "what consumers look for in cars and try to help them really target their cars to their consumers."
He listed the opportunity to enjoy warmer weather and to return to the area where he and his wife met and used to live as factoring into his decision to leave Consumer Reports. He also said he is ready for a new adventure after strengthening the auto test center during his tenure.
"It's going to be, I think, a fun and interesting challenge to really make Nissan stand out from the crowd," Champion said.
Consumer Reports said it has promoted two engineers to succeed Champion: Jake Fisher will oversee vehicle testing, while Jennifer Stockburger will manage the test track and the magazine's child car-seat and tire testing programs.
"He has helped transform Consumer Reports' Auto Testing operations during his 15 years here and become an influential voice in the autos space," Liam McCormack, a vice president and technical director for Consumer Reports, said in a statement. "We are especially proud of his tireless work to promote auto safety and helping make the nation's roads safer."
Champion's hiring comes amid gains for Nissan in quality and customer-satisfaction studies as it works to put itself more on par with Toyota and other industry leaders. The company recently brought out a redesigned Altima sedan and plans to introduce four more revamped models within the next year.
Nissan has fared relatively well in Consumer Reports tests, with the Altima rated as the best midsize car. For the current model year, the Altima, Infiniti G37 and Infiniti M37 are all among the publication's 10 top-rated models.
In the past year, Champion has been an outspoken critic of Ford Motor Co.'s touchscreen infotainment system.
A blunt post published today on the Consumer Reports Web site was headlined: "Why the MyFord Touch control system stinks." His decisions not to recommend the new Toyota Prius c hybrid and the redesigned Honda Civic came as embarrassments for the cars' manufacturers.
He also questioned the quality of the $103,000 Fisker Karma electric car, after a Karma purchased by Consumer Reports for testing stopped working after 180 miles.
Before joining Nissan, Champion spent 14 years at Land Rover, first in his native England and then in Arizona, where he oversaw the creation of a testing center.
He grew up in Wolverhampton, England, near that country's auto manufacturing center in Birmingham. He often visited test tracks as a child with his father, Ronald, an engineer at Guy Trucks and later Goodyear.
Champion told Automotive News for a profile published in June that he had been approached about returning to the auto industry. The timing, he said, wasn't right, in part because he has two children attending colleges near his home in Connecticut.
"Besides," he said at the time, "I get to drive a different car every day."
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