CARLSBAD, Calif. - Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. has boldly predicted it will sell 1 million vehicles a year in the United States.
Combined Nissan and Infiniti division sales have never come close to that mark. And previous efforts to hit big volume targets triggered massive incentive spending, which helped place the Japanese automaker in its current financial straits.
Norio Matsumura, Nissan's executive vice president for overseas operations, told U.S. Infiniti dealers he wants to hit the mark 'as early as possible in the next century.' When questioned afterward, Matsumura said he expects U.S. sales to surge after Nissan and Infiniti products are redesigned over the next five years.
Nissan Division will account for 850,000 sales and Infiniti 150,000 units of the total, Matsumura said at the annual meeting of Infiniti dealers here. Last year Nissan Division sold 557,879 vehicles in the United States and Infiniti Division sold 63,649 - a total of 621,528. That was its lowest mark since 1992, and its fourth straight year of decline.
This year, combined Nissan and Infiniti sales are up 7.8 percent through July.
Matsumura said that Nissan Motor is reviewing the next five years of product plans for possible changes in model variations. However, Nissan will not stray from its basic product strategy.
Nissan is trying to cut costs by slashing its number of product platforms. But it likely will not share products with its new equity partner, Renault SA, during the upcoming product cycle. Renault bought a 36.8 percent stake in Nissan earlier this year.
Matsumura said the Z sports car arriving in spring 2002 will embody the company's image. But he wants all Nissan products to carry the spirit of the Z.
What's more, Nissan's U.S. design and r&d centers will be involved in developing every vehicle sold in America. Even if a vehicle will be built in Japan and also be sold in Japan, the U.S. arm will sign off on any product marketed here, Matsumura said.
In the past, Nissan in the United States has had little say in some products, including some that have been built here.
SHORTER LIFE CYCLES
Matsumura is especially concerned about Nissan's sport-utilities. Though he is pleased with the early success of the bold and rugged Xterra, Matsumura said Nissan's other sport-utilities 'don't meet the styling and power requirements of the market.'
Nissan can't afford to wait for its vehicles' traditional product cycles to end to make changes, noted Yuki Kitahora, Nissan North America senior vice president of sales and marketing.
Several current cars and trucks also will have their life cycles shortened, so that better replacements can be brought to market sooner.
'One million units won't be an easy task. It's a big wall to climb over to get into that club,' Kitahora said. 'Think of how long it took Toyota and Honda to go from 800,000 to 1 million, and you have an idea of how hard it will be.'
It took Toyota six years and Honda eight.
With the Japanese home market still in the doldrums, Nissan's best chance for a turnaround comes from the booming U.S. market.
During its peak year, 1985, Nissan sold 830,767 units. Nissan has not come close to that since, despite the addition of the Infiniti luxury division in 1989. Its highest mark this decade was 774,408, in 1994.
That's when Nissan executives predicted continued growth that would 'beat Honda.' That boast later led to a prediction of 900,000 sales in 2000.
Matsumura says Nissan's failure to meet that mark is the result of products that failed to take the American customer into account.
'We have not met the market requirements like Honda and Toyota. We are going to completely change our attitude,' Matsumura said.
'We will go to the market first, then to the engineers. Once we get the right products, then we will have consistent activities to improve our brand image,'
Dealer Fred Miller of Van Nuys, Calif., who holds Nissan, Infiniti and several other import franchises, said 'Nissan has to overcome 12 years of selling the deal' in chasing those volume targets.
'Nissan has been slow to react, and that's been frustrating,' Miller said. 'They can't just do me-too cars. They have to keep creating their own types of products like Xterra. If Lexus comes out with a RX 300, let them have it. Don't just copy it.'