YOKOHAMA, Japan -- Nissan Motor Co. CEO Carlos Ghosn, predicting a 7.7 percent increase in U.S. sales this fiscal year despite Japan's devastating earthquake, says his top priority for the United States is achieving 10 percent market share "as soon as possible."
The Nissan and Infiniti brands ended 2010 with a combined market share of 7.8 percent, up from 7.4 percent the year before. But in May, after suffering a sales slide due to earthquake disruption of inventory, the carmaker's U.S. market share retreated to 7.2 percent.
Ghosn said he delivered the ambitious goal to Executive Vice President Colin Dodge, who replaced Carlos Tavares this month as Nissan's new chairman of the Americas.
"It's very simple, as soon as possible, 10 percent market share in the United States," Ghosn said today after the company released its fiscal year financial forecasts.
Ghosn said Nissan wouldn't hit 10 percent in 2011, because the company started the year with many factories shut down by the March 11 earthquake in Japan.
But he said he hoped to reach the target in the first phase of the six-year midyear business plan Nissan will unveil on Monday, June 27. "I think we have the product to do it," Ghosn said, calling the goal a "reachable and obvious first milestone in our expansion."
Separately, Ghosn said Nissan production has nearly returned to pre-earthquake volume levels.
And he now predicts global sales and output will end the year higher than last year despite shutting down plants for weeks after the earthquake paralyzed Japan's supply chain.
A 7.7 percent advance in U.S. sales to 1.04 million vehicles will help power the carmaker's recovery in the current fiscal year ending March 31, 2012, according to the company's new financial outlook. North American output is seen climbing 8.7 percent to 1.17 million units.
Ghosn credited Nissan's robust recovery partly to spreading risk better among suppliers and factories overseas that weren't as badly affected by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake.
For the full fiscal year, Nissan predicts global sales will rise 9.9 percent to 4.6 million units on the back of an 11.2 percent rise in production.
"We are practically at the normal level of production, even though it's a restricted level of production," Ghosn said. "But in terms of volume, we are approaching normal production."
Achieving unrestricted output of any car in any variant is on track for October, he added.
Nissan's new 6-year outlook being unveiled next week replaces the previous plan, dubbed Nissan GT 2012, which the company scrapped in 2009 after the global financial crisis.
Ghosn said the new plan will focus on market share targets, product plans and technology.
Nissan is entering a growth phase and wants to expand its global market from around 5.8 percent last year, Ghosn said.
"The next plan that we are announcing on Monday is a phase of growth," Ghosn said. "Because most of the investments that we have been making in the past years are now delivering, China, India, Russia. We're going to talk about Brazil."
This year's volume surge will help staunch sliding earnings, Nissan executive Joji Tagawa said.
Nissan forecasts net income to decline 15.4 percent to 270.0 billion yen ($3.37 billion) in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2012, while operating profit is seen dropping 14.4 percent to 460.0 billion yen ($5.73 billion). Revenue is expected to rise 7.1 percent to 9.4 trillion yen ($117.2 billion.)
The percentage declines are less than the 31 percent tumble in net income and 36 percent drop in operating profit predicted earlier this month by Toyota Motor Corp. Honda, meanwhile, has forecast a 64 percent retreat in net income and a 65 percent plunge in operating profit.