DETROIT - Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. has begun a global study aimed at shoring up the Nissan brand.
The company has contracted with a brand marketing expert to work with Nissan, said Carlos Ghosn, the automaker's new COO.
'We need to take some time to think about our brand identity and the strength of the brand worldwide,' said Ghosn. 'This effort should lead to a definition of what we would like our brand identity to be.'
The expert is Larry Light, CEO of Arcature Inc. of Stamford, Conn. Light is known for a concept called 'brand loyalty management.' One premise: A strong brand loyalty is the basis for sustained and growing profits.
Ghosn believes brand identity is one of the main problems facing the troubled automaker and therefore a key part of its recovery.
In the United States, Nissan's brand troubles can be traced to the name change from Datsun in 1982. The company has wrestled with the issue of what 'Nissan' means to consumers ever since.
At one point, Nissan drew its volume from low-priced subcompacts and pickups while throwing its marketing weight behind sports cars. Then it shifted its focus to sedans. More recently, a popular ad campaign starred a sports car, the 300ZX, that wasn't on the market.
Market researcher Doug Scott said Nissan has failed to present a consistent message while trying to set itself apart from Honda and Toyota.
He said the answer begins with being seen on the same level as those rivals when it comes to quality and reliability. 'But it has to be something else,' said Scott, who is president of Allison-Fisher Inc., an automotive marketing research and consulting firm in Southfield, Mich.
'And that is the $64,000 question.'
Ghosn said the effort will involve the entire company, from marketing to manufacturing, engineering and product planning.
He hopes to have some preliminary findings ready in October. On Oct. 19 at the Tokyo auto show, Nissan will announce a broader plan for its recovery.
Ghosn came to Nissan last month as a result of Renault SA's purchase of 36.8 percent of Nissan earlier this year. He spoke to reporters last week during a visit to Nissan Research and Development Inc. in Farmington Hills, Mich.
He said it is critical for Nissan to be profitable in the fiscal year that begins next March 31. Nissan expects to lose money in the current year. That would mark its seventh loss in the past eight years.
Ghosn said he will do whatever is necessary to reverse the tide.
'One thing that is not negotiable is that Nissan will have to come to profit very quickly.'