To all initial appearances, Munoz is a car dealer's dream factory exec.
"Look at what he already did in his first 40 days on the job," enthuses John Driebe, owner of Nissan of Elk Grove on the south side of Sacramento. "He cut the MSRPs on seven models to help us sell them."
In early May, Munoz announced factory price reductions ranging from $580 to $4,400 per model in an effort to make sure Nissan cars show up more prominently in Internet searches.
"When a customer is shopping online, I want my car to be there," Munoz says. "I don't want it to be at a discount, and I don't want to be at a premium. We simply want to be competitive."
Munoz spent April and May visiting Nissan and Infiniti dealers across the country to tell them what the company wants to do. But more pointedly, he is asking the dealers for their help in doing it.
This is the same way he began his role as head of Nissan in Mexico four years ago. In Munoz's initial round of visits with Mexican dealers, he similarly asked for their help in becoming Mexico's No. 1 brand. Some retailers thought his proposal unrealistic.
"They said there's no way we can become No. 1. We would need too many improvements. We would need better financing, better looking advertising, better supply of cars, more efficient supplies of dealer parts, they said.
"I said, OK, let's organize ourselves and do it."
They targeted a 22 percent market share by 2012. When they reached 23 percent in 2011, Munoz asked them for a higher target. At that point he proposed making Nissan's captive finance arm a more significant force in Mexican auto financing, where it had been a small player. Today Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp. is the market leader in Mexican auto finance.
One tumultuous step he took in Mexico was rebuilding the Nissan dealer network. He eliminated a swath of underperforming, underinvested dealers there and recruited stronger dealers to take their place.
Is this cause for alarm in the U.S. dealer body? No, Munoz says.
"I don't think the case is the same as in Mexico," he says. "We don't need to decrease the number of dealers. To the contrary, maybe in some places we need to get additional dealers here."
One issue he noticed was the dealers' desire for Nissan to help raise the value of their franchises.
In other world markets, he notes, "dealers are interested only in return on sales. They say, 'I'm making money and I'm happy.'
"But here in the U.S., dealers also consider that sometimes they are going to sell the business. And they have asked for help in increasing franchise value."
Increasing dealership values, he says, is now "a key strategic goal."
Higher profits, he repeats. More throughput. Better brand image. And better dealer-factory relations.
In the spring, Presidio Group, a consulting firm that specializes in auto dealership acquisitions, lowered its appraisal for Nissan franchises in general. "Despite its status as a major franchise, there are few buyers seeking these franchises," Presidio said of Nissan in its 2012 year-end industry report. "Factory relations can be challenging."
Munoz received news of the report glumly.
"We don't want to be told that," he says. "But let's look back in a few years and see what's happened to the value."
Indeed, some dealers are expressing anxiety about the task ahead. They caution that growth in market share must come from the consumer up, not the factory down.
One Nissan dealer in the Southeast, who asked not to be named, said he is concerned that ambitious factory sales targets could pressure dealers to push more cars into fleet sales. Over the past year, Nissan has been generous with dealers in allowing them to move inventory off their sales lots and into their store-owned rental fleets, and to count those moves to meet sales quotas under the automaker's stair-step sales incentive programs.
The retailer worries that such moves can create an artificial sense of Nissan's true market potential.
"And sooner or later," he says, "dealers will pay the price for that."
In late May, Munoz and his team received more negative feedback when the National Automobile Dealers Association presented them with its regular dealer attitude survey showing a downcast outlook among Nissan dealers.
The survey reported that dealers believe the franchise has lost value over the past 12 months, and will lose more value over the next 12 months. It also highlighted a prevalent attitude that Nissan's sales incentives programs are unfair, and a concern that Nissan's products were uncompetitive.
A spokesman said Nissan is working "to improve our future results."
Brad Fenton, chairman of the Nissan National Dealer Advisory Board and owner of Fenton Motors of Oklahoma City, which owns five Nissan stores, said he believes Munoz's efforts are already addressing some dealer beefs.
"No excuses," he says of the list of grievances. "I do believe those have been addressed now and dealer confidence will be restored."
Another challenge Munoz must address: Infiniti dealers have asked for his commitment that he and his fellow executives at Nissan North America will stand solidly behind Infiniti's new global push for brand independence.
Infiniti dealers already are less than thrilled with the hot-selling new Nissan Pathfinder crossover. Great for Nissan dealers, they say. But it is the mass-market version of Infiniti's seven-passenger JX crossover -- and some Infiniti customers have been wooed away by a lower Nissan price.
"He has a lot of experience, but it hasn't been in the United States," says dealer David Rosenberg, owner of Prime Infiniti in Hanover, Mass., and chairman of Infiniti's National Dealer Advisory Board.
"But he and I have talked over dinner about how he helped dealerships in Mexico become more profitable. And he's asking for our ideas. I think it's tremendous that someone at his level wants to go out and meet with all the dealers and ask for their input."
Fenton believes empowering regional vice presidents will result in dealership inventories that are better targeted to their markets.
That, he says, "has to do with getting the cars they need when they need them. For example, more small cars in the West and more Frontier pickups in Texas. More all-wheel-drive in the North and Maximas in Chicago."
Fenton has met four times with Munoz.
"Jose knows that healthy dealers do better and sell more cars," he says. "He is committed to profit growth for dealers."
Fenton reports that Munoz is scheduling strategic planning meetings with retailers to hammer out specific paths to new targets -- just as he did to powerful results in Mexico.
But Munoz himself, who only began learning English at age 25, fully acknowledges his dealers' message that the United States is a unique car market. In light of that, he is asking them for a commitment to change a situation that he contends is specific to the United States. He wants, he says, "more of the dealer share of mind."
"A peculiarity of the U.S. market is that almost 100 percent of our dealers are multifranchise," he says. "A key success factor will be what we call the dealer share of mind."