In recent months several dealers also began complaining about what they described as Nissan North America's efforts to boost its market presence in selected cities by assisting one local dealer. Two Cleveland market dealers filed suit in U.S. District Court for Northern Ohio in February alleging that Nissan is providing support adding up to millions of dollars to a competing dealership there. The suit claims that the factory support amounts to a discriminatory incentive program that violates both U.S. and Ohio law.
A similar dealer protest is challenging a factory subsidy to an Infiniti store in Coral Gables, Fla. According to that complaint before the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings, Nissan North America agreed to give an Infiniti store owner up to $4.4 million over seven years to help cover real estate, construction and other costs. Part of the money is tied to his achieving performance targets.
In February, Girard Nissan in Groton, Conn., filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for Connecticut, alleging that Nissan is violating state franchise laws by not having fair incentive programs for all dealers. That lawsuit seeks payment of lost incentives and a right-sizing of territory resulting in more achievable objectives for the dealership.
Such lawsuits and the murmuring in public about them put a chill on buyer interest, says buy-sell adviser Haig.
"Any litigation smells bad," Haig said. "It makes buyers ask themselves, "Why would I even pursue a Nissan franchise?'"
Judy Wheeler, who became vice president for Nissan Division U.S. sales in January, says such assertions are simply wrong.
"When we hear dealers saying their franchise isn't worth as much, that is absolutely incorrect," Wheeler said. "Our franchise values have gotten better. Franchise values are up quite a bit," she said, declining to reveal the percentage increase.
Wheeler acknowledges that there is a negative buzz in the air about Nissan in some circles, but she questions the motives behind that buzz. She says Nissan management was expecting to hear about it from dealers during the brand's franchise make meeting at this year's NADA convention. But there was not a single negative question.
"We have over 1,300 dealerships, Nissan and Infiniti," Wheeler said in an interview with Automotive News. "Will we ever be able to keep them all 100 percent satisfied? Absolutely not. It's just math. You can never keep everybody completely happy.
"If we can have 95 percent of our dealers with us, then that's fantastic."
But she says the automaker is making every effort to continue growing in the U.S. market while working with dealers to address complaints and resolve problems.
In March and April, Munoz met with dealers around the country to announce changes to the Nissan Sales Growth Program that were requested by dealers. The program is Nissan's ongoing sales incentive campaign, intended to spur dealers to bigger volumes and reward them with cash when they succeed.
Dealers at various brands have loudly decried such stair-step incentive programs. In the past two years, Nissan has modified its program three times in response to dealer body suggestions.
Munoz, along with his top executives, travels monthly to meet with the company's national dealer advisory board members, asking retailers how Nissan can make things work better for them.
Munoz has assigned executives to various committees to execute dealer ideas on issues ranging from staffing the company's Nissan Motors Acceptance Corp. finance arm to be open for business on weekends and at night to changing the way vehicles are distributed regionally.
But no one at Nissan North America -- no matter what its dealers might ask -- is backing away from the corporation's mission from Ghosn. Nissan intends to keep growing market share in the United States, as well as in Canada and Mexico.
And that translates to more sales, which translates to harder work at the retail level.
Wheeler said: "We're driving a lot of change, and not everybody likes change. We're asking dealers to do more and get on board with us.
"When you ask them to change, not all of them are going to move at the pace that the company is moving -- especially dealers who have been very comfortable, riding along, and making a nice living.
"We're saying, "We want to take it to the next level. We would like a bigger piece of the pie.' And that means that they all need to step up as well. Some of them are thinking, "I don't know if I want to do that.'"
Wheeler acknowledges that this new pace of business is going to cause some Nissan dealers to drop out. But she also says the overall mood of Nissan dealers is overwhelmingly positive. She cites the case of a retailer in Nissan's Western sales region who had put his store up for sale, but who now is backing away from an interested buyer because he believes Nissan is increasing in value as a franchise.
"The dealers who are with us will continue to get stronger," Wheeler said. "For the ones who say this just isn't for them -- here's an opportunity to sell your dealership and get a great price for it. The market for Nissan dealerships is very strong right now."
But that grow-or-go message is not helping Nissan endear itself to retailers, Roesner adds, nor making dealers comfortable with additional investment.
Asks Roesner: "Would you like that?"