NEW YORK -- Nissan Motor Corp. CEO Carlos Ghosn, 60, is one of the auto industry's longest-serving chief executives. He is pressing the Japanese automaker to reach an 8 percent global market share by the end of March 2017 -- up from 6 percent on Sept. 30, the end of the first half of Nissan's current fiscal year.
To help get there, Ghosn has localized more of Nissan's production in North America. In the past two years, Nissan has moved output of its electric Leaf, Rogue crossover and Murano crossover to U.S. plants from Japan, opened a plant for Sentra compact production in Mexico, and announced a second new plant that will build compact Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz luxury vehicles starting in 2017 through an expanding product-sharing arrangement with Mercedes' parent company, Daimler AG of Germany. Ghosn wants Nissan North America to achieve a 10 percent U.S. market share, up from 8.5 percent for the first 10 months of this year.
Ghosn, Nissan's CEO since 2001, met last week in the newly opened Renault-Nissan Alliance offices here with News Editor Dave Guilford and Staff Reporter Lindsay Chappell.
Q: Various world markets have struggled this year. Japan just tipped into a recession. How does 2015 look for Nissan?
A: What we're seeing is a very moderate growth. Some markets will be growing, some will be stable and some will decline.
In our opinion, the growing markets for us will be China, without any doubt, India and the United States, also without any doubt, although the rate in the United States will be moderate -- in the range of 1 to 2 percent. Nothing more spectacular than that.
Russia and Brazil had a terrible year in 2014, and unfortunately that's not finished. Both of them have been shrinking and shrinking. But for us, they will be stable next year. They're not going to get worse. They will stay at a mediocre level, muddling through.
I would say it's going to be "stable-plus," which means somewhere between 1 and 2 percent. It's going to depend a lot on decisions made by the central European bank about how much priority governments are going to give to growth versus fighting deficits. At the moment, the jury is still out on that.
When it comes to declining markets, I would say Japan. And also Argentina, which will fall further in 2015. We don't see an end to that.
Against such a backdrop, Nissan has an aggressive global growth plan. How will the company's U.S. sales growth offset the headwinds in other markets?
In 2014, we gained in the United States, but you didn't see the whole story. You'll see more in 2015.
In 2015, we're going to continue the offensive you've seen in the United States. Our market share should continue to grow. We have a lot of new products coming. We're about to launch the Murano and we have the Maxima coming next year. And we'll be able to better supply the market with products we have been short of, like the Sentra and the Rogue.
Nissan's U.S. sales growth is beginning to squeeze its North American capacity, isn't it?
You're absolutely right. We have pursued a strategy to localize our production everywhere in the world because we have taken so many hits on exchange rates. But if we are strained for capacity in North America now and it's time to increase it, I think our capacity in Japan can support our U.S. initiative.
The yen has been a handicap for us for the past three years -- but it's no longer a handicap. We have to admit that in the past, even though we were squeezed on U.S. capacity, we could not use our existing capacity in Japan. We haven't changed our strategy. But now, with the yen at 114 or 115 to the dollar, shipping some cars from Japan to support our offensive here makes sense.
Are we going to do it for the long term? Not at all. We're not changing strategy. But three years ago, we were at 75 yen to the dollar, which was abnormal. Now we're at 116, which we can say is also abnormal. But it works for our needs today.
Was investing in a new-generation Titan pickup a tough decision?
No. If you want to be one of the top brands in the United States, which is our objective -- and we have a goal of reaching a 10 percent U.S. market share -- you can't do it without a presence in pickup trucks.
Nissan's partnership with Daimler is expanding rapidly. In five or six years, will all Infinitis come from the partnership?
No, I don't think all of them. It's not a question of basing everything on our cooperation with Daimler. We can cooperate because we're not really in direct competition. There is very little cross-shopping between Infiniti and Mercedes.
Does Nissan have full visibility into the depth of the Takata airbag problem?
We think so. Full visibility? You never know. But we think we have a reasonable visibility about the size of the problem, and we are recalling whatever we need to recall to make sure that consumers are not confronted with any risk.