Last year, Colin Dodge juggled a long list of responsibilities for Nissan Motor Co. He was global chief performance officer and in charge of Nissan's markets in North and South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and India.
Last year also was a period of product renewal and expansion for the Nissan and Infiniti brands in the Americas, and Dodge acknowledges that it was challenging. "I won't say that everything that could go wrong went wrong, but we had challenges," he says.
This year will be even more ambitious. But Dodge, 57, has pared back, shedding his regional overseas roles to focus on the Americas. He remains chief performance officer.
At the same time, Nissan has introduced a new senior vice president, Jose Munoz, who will oversee an expanded sales and marketing role from Canada to Chile. And in April, it recruited a new Nissan Division vice president, former Ram boss Fred Diaz, to oversee the division's sales, marketing, fixed operations, parts and service, advertising and administration.
Dodge recently met in his office in Franklin, Tenn., with Staff Reporter Lindsay Chappell to talk about what's ahead for Nissan.
Q: You've just had some top-level management changes, but beyond that, Nissan has a different organizational structure now. Why?
A: The job is much bigger than it used to be. Our midterm plan is quite aggressive in terms of share and presence and profitability. We looked at how we were organized and decided to reinforce it. We're going to sell 2 million cars. We're going to enter segments we've never been in before, regionwide, from Chile to Canada.
The organization had done very nicely for us as it was, but it wasn't strong enough to get the job done, in our opinion. Our plan for Nissan and Infiniti combined, in the whole Americas, is to reach sales of 2 million, and we have the product and capacity to support it. It wasn't very long ago that the organization here was managing just North America and Canada with a volume of just north of half a million.
Manufacturing in North America used to make half a million cars. By quarter four of 2013, we'll be at a run rate of a million a year. And that half a million was for mostly domestic sales. We're becoming quite a big exporter as well now. We are transforming from a domestic manufacturer to a global one.
And your job now focuses on the Americas.
Yes. I was overstretched and couldn't support the team enough in 2012. On reflection, to run Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India and all of the Americas, with the growth plans we have, wasn't working. You need a lot of attention from headquarters, and I can bring that.
What is the task that you're now giving to Jose Munoz and Fred Diaz as they take over sales here?
I would like a bigger share of the dealer mind.
What do you mean by that?
I mean that dealers are multifranchise, right? I'd like them to believe that Nissan is not the bronze medalist among the Japanese three. I'd like them to believe in our product and our management team, and the way we communicate and listen, and the way their profit-per-unit trend goes.
I'd also like to see Nissan operate in the United States more like other countries. It still fascinates me that this is the only country in the world where Honda outsells us, except for Japan and Thailand, and there are historical reasons for those. That's just odd to me as an outsider, but Americans accept it as normal. I'd also like to expand the network, and at a speed that we've never had before, because we have the products for it. We've still got big open points.
How will the Altima do this year?
It's going to be a very aggressive year. He who's quick and smart and has the right supply chain and the right model mix in the right place will win.
If you look at the Altima segment, all the cars are pretty good from a quality perspective. They're all pretty good from a content point of view and the dealers are all pretty good. So what will be the deciding factor? It will be right car, right place, right offer, right package, watching what we're doing, and also having a share of dealer mind. Whether the dealer is more interested in selling our car or another is very important.
Will you declare that the Altima will be the best-selling car of the year?
Never. I won't do that.
The head of Toyota recently said that the Camry will be the best-selling car this year.
Please let him enjoy his statement. I'm not going to go out on a limb. It's like predicting you're going to win a football game 20 minutes before you go onto the field.
But I think we're in a good place.
Some Nissan critics say fleet sales are a big reason for Altima's rising sales. But you're reducing fleet sales, aren't you?
We were down 35 percent in the first quarter alone. We will be down by half by the end of the year.
And the reason we stepped off of fleet is because we could. We have more demand. And I also have massive demand coming from outside of the U.S. now, particularly from the Middle East.
Now, will we re-enter fleet? Sure, if I have the cars. Some fleet sales are very profitable.
Over the past couple of years, Nissan has decried the Japanese yen's rising value and shifted some production from Japan to North America. But now the yen has fallen. How does that affect your sourcing plans?
The yen has simply corrected itself. For many years, at 100 yen to the dollar, Japan was more competitive than America. All that's happened is that Japan became uncompetitive. And now it's going back to normal.
You can quote me on this in as big a letters as you like: We don't intend to change any plans whatsoever because of the yen -- except for sales and marketing expense on yen-based products, like the Juke and some of our Infiniti vehicles. And what that will mean is that it's now suddenly worth advertising those cars again. It wasn't last November.
We haven't changed anything. Nothing at all. Our strategy is very simple -- it's to be currency neutral. No tailwind, no headwind.
Nissan has spent a lot of effort trying to clarify for consumers what the Nissan brand is all about. Is that problem fixed?
No. It's a long journey, and we're still on that journey. You don't fix it in one or two years.
One thing that has a big effect on brand identity is discount levels. We're in the process of fixing that by making sure that the gap between the MSRP and the transaction price is right. And we're making sure that our incentive levels are right, and managing them every two weeks.
That's one thing. The larger issue is the product itself, and we're getting much better. And honestly, having a reasonable volume of more than one car is absolutely mandatory. We have reasonable volume of Altima, but we don't have another model in the top 10.
What is Nissan’s share goal?
In North America, we’ve been disappointed for years that we’re an 8 percent player as opposed to a 10 percent or 11 percent player. We’ve got product plans and network development plans to fulfill our potential more solidly.