Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. is in trouble. Renault SA, its new controlling owner, has come to the rescue. Nissan's new chief operating officer, Carlos Ghosn, is acting as if the house is on fire and there's no time to waste.
He will announce a restructuring plan next Monday, Oct. 18, before the Tokyo Motor Show. Part of it will address the brand itself. What is a Nissan? What does Nissan stands for?
Ghosn believes that lack of identity is one of the main problems facing the automaker. And without a clear identity, no true recovery can begin.
Staff Reporter Mark Rechtin asked executives and others close to the company about Nissan's future. They agreed that Nissan has lost its way but offered no consensus on where it should go.
Fie on vagueness
Jerry Hirshberg, president, Nissan Design International
The clarity of our design will be one of the hallmarks of the new Nissan. We can be flamboyant or authentic or cutting-edge, but above all we will be strong. We're going to use the powerful engineering and quality Nissan is already capable of, and performance will be coming back strong. When we were at our best, we made vehicles that were fun to drive, with performance appropriate to the class.
When the Z returns, it is not going to be a shy vehicle in any way. It will be a much stronger statement than the concepts we've shown already, with performance as unbelievable for the money as the original 240Z was, maybe more. This is not going to be lipstick and makeup. It is going to be wired through the whole company. The days of being a kind-of, sort-of, something-for-everybody company are over. We will appeal to some people and some markets and not to others, and so be it. We have a more confident sense than a vague, not-wanting-to-offend attitude.
The new `Z'
Yutaka Katayama, former president of Nissan's North American operations and father of the Datsun 240Z
I am almost the only person left who observed the first Datsun as it rolled off the first conveyor-line system in Japan in 1935. My eyes were full of excitement, enthusiasm and pride, and the hope to own a Datsun of my own someday. Even though I was sent away from my country to work in America, and later had the cherished Datsun brand name erased, I will never lose my love for Datsun and the Z.
Nissan has finally understood the importance of the Z car and the situation of the Z car in the U.S. market. Since Renault has extended its help to Nissan, people in Nissan look receptive in listening to the new ideas. It will take some time to see the real result of change, but I am sure that Nissan will get back into the industry line with attractive products. The return of new Z car, the flagship, will be the answer.
We need a god
Koji Hijikata, Nissan North America senior vice president of corporate strategy and development
When I was younger, I was working in Australian operations, and I was asked to translate the launch of the new Skyline to the local sales executives. The program chief for the Skyline, Shinichiro Sakurai, tried to explain the concept, but a lot of it didn't translate well into English. He said things like, 'It moves like a shadow.'
The designer's view and image of a car is almost like a puzzle. That is what made Nissan cars have beauty and vividness, shadow and spirit. Sakurai was one of those executives who had a mythology to him. He was almost a god at Nissan. And that kind of charismatic person has been lost from Nissan for some time now. We need to find that again.
'Smart, excited, spirited reliability'
Nobuo Araki, President of Nissan North America
Durability, quality and reliability is the price of entry for Japanese manufacturers. We've also been in a situation where we've been the hot deal, not the hot product. We need to be the hot product that is also the good value. I think the image in the U.S. should be 'smart, excited and spirited reliability.' That concept may change, because it doesn't translate very well into French or Japanese, but the spirit and philosophy should be the same.
The magic link: Innovation and marketing
Fred Miller, Nissan dealer for 31 years, Van Nuys, Calif.
You remember those Sentra and truck ads where the money came out under the fenders? Nissan has to overcome 12 years of selling the deal. What they need to do is bring forth innovative products, because I believe Nissan's engineering is the best of any company. But they need to tie that in to the marketing. Nissan needs to play up those engineering features and the spirit of driving a better-engineered car. They need to show that a Nissan is a wise buy, a good buy, but an enjoyable ride - not just a truck. They have a heritage of doing that. Maybe they should start conducting driving clinics so people can actually see how much better Nissans are.
We need emotion
Norio Matsumura, executive vice president for overseas operations
It's hard to find the right terminology. But to me, Nissan represents durability, quality and reliability, with something on top that's emotional. The spirit of Nissan has more to do with the Z car than the Xterra, which is too new. The Z car has history, tradition, styling and performance. It attracts the young buyer and the mature buyer. We have to find a way to get that spirit through the lineup, because that's what we've missed.
People must know a Nissan is a Nissan
Patrick Pelata, executive vice president for product planning and strategy
The cars have to be fun to drive and have a sporty taste, surely. But the four-wheel-drive trucks should be different from that. The Xterra is a good expression of what we want Nissan to bring. That is innovation for people's lives, not innovation for innovation's sake. Nissan has had three separate brands for Japan, North America and Europe. That is bad for a global company, because then no one really knows what the brand is. On the other hand, Renault cars look like Renaults. When we put the Twingo through its early design clinics, without badges, nearly everyone knew right away that it was going to be a Renault. That feeling exists at Nissan, but it is completely underground. It's not expressed in design, and therefore the customer can't see it.