Munoz: Core products drove Nissan's sales gains in 2013

Munoz: "Nissan delivered one of the biggest increases of the industry last year, and we didn't capitalize on trucks."

Jose Munoz, 48, recently named chairman of Nissan's North American operations, paused at the convention to speak with Staff Reporter Lindsay Chappell.

Q: People in Detroit are referring to this as "the year of the truck." Do you see it that way?

A: Nissan delivered one of the biggest increases of the industry last year, and we didn't capitalize on trucks. We did it based on increasing sales of our core products -- the Altima, the Sentra, Versa, Pathfinder and Rogue.

Ford is making waves with the aluminum-body F-150 pickup it unveiled this month in Detroit. Will it be a game-changer?

I'm hesitant to say how that's going to affect the rest of the industry. We'll be paying attention to it. But I know that aluminum technology is very complex to put into a manufacturing operation, mainly because of the welding difficulties. Today, a lot of aluminum welding is done by laser, and laser welding is quite complex.

The other challenging element would be repairs. Dealers will have to be able to do body repairs in aluminum.

We'll pay attention to it to see how it goes. Nissan isn't so much focused on that.

J.D. Power made a point of saying the other day that Nissan made very big improvements in its sales and service satisfaction performance last year, vs. it being a problem area in the past. What was the key?

A number of programs were put in place to address that over the past couple of years, including the Owner-First Fund, and the Invest in the Best program. We worked very closely with the dealer network to ask them what their biggest issues were and where we needed to focus and how we could help them. We've benchmarked best practices from across the network.

We're happy with the progress, but we want to do better.

J.D. Power also said that Nissan had suffered in the past year from a dip in product quality. But it tied the downturn to the large number of model launches you executed over the past two years. Have you corrected those issues?

Yes. The current Rogue launch in Smyrna is a good example. The quality measure one month after sale is much better than the Altima, the Pathfinder and the Infiniti QX60. Dealers are very confident about the new Rogue. And when you see the new Murano, the next Maxima and the future Titan, you will see the improvements we made and the efforts we made to reinforce our organization.

You can reach Lindsay Chappell at lchappell@crain.com



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