In its drive to grab more U.S. market share, Nissan North America is quietly forming alliances with selected dealers who get favorable treatment, and sometimes millions of dollars, from the company.
One so-called preferred dealer is Bernie Moreno, who has acquired two Nissan and three Infiniti stores in Ohio in the past six years. To help him ramp up and expand, Nissan promised to give him as much as $6.6 million, according to court documents from a case related to an open Infiniti point awarded to Moreno in Coral Gables, Fla.
For the Coral Gables location, Nissan agreed to give Moreno as much as $4.4 million -- $200,000 when the dealership opens and an additional $120,000 per quarter for up to seven years -- if sales goals are achieved, according to a 2014 agreement signed by Moreno and Nissan. He is also supposed to get $1 million for store improvements -- about twice the amount Nissan normally provides, according to court documents.
In exchange, Moreno promises dramatic performance. He aims to sell more than 2,100 Infinitis the first year the store is open, which would be more than almost any other Infiniti dealership, according to the court documents.
Moreno is not alone. In the Coral Gables case, a Nissan executive testified the company has given other dealers -- whom he did not name -- even richer packages than Moreno's.
David Reuter, a Nissan North America spokesman, said the automaker sees strengthening its retail networks and helping dealers expand as a "real opportunity," although he declined to elaborate about any specific efforts or dealers, including Moreno.
"When we see an opportunity, we are going to help the dealer to be successful," he said. "We will help any dealer that comes to us and says, 'We could be more successful. Will you help us do that?'"
In some markets, he noted, Nissan is seen as "perennially the third Japanese brand" and is working hard to strengthen the allure of its marques. "We have some metro markets where we have opportunities to do better," he said.
The Coral Gables court case centers on a protest over the awarding of the point to Moreno. It was filed by the owners of Miami-area South Motors Infiniti, who also expressed interest in the location and whose territory once included Coral Gables. Moreno prevailed, and the other side is weighing an appeal.