MEXICO CITY -- The next president of Nissan Mexicana, 39-year-old Mayra Gonzalez, is as proud of her brand as she is of her country.
She rattles off statistics that show why Nissan brand and Mexico make a perfect combination: 83 straight months as the local sales leader, with a record 347,000 light vehicles sold last year and a 26 percent market share, the highest Nissan penetration of any market in the world.
Her new goal is to extend the record to 100 months in a row.
Gonzalez, who is moving up from the top sales position, says she sees Mexico's role in the auto industry as much more than an export platform; it's an aspirational market where students are increasingly in a position to buy their first car and young families to step up to their first SUV.
"The good thing about Mexico is there remains a market that can buy a car but doesn't know that it can," she said in an interview early this month.
In Mexico, five of the 10 top-selling models are Nissans. And all five are made in Mexico. "I always say that Nissan is a Japanese company that is proudly Mexican, with 50 years now in this wonderful country," she said.
The trailblazing executive is also aware that she's shattering the glass ceiling in an industry dominated by men.
Gonzalez's promotion to president, effective July 1, makes her the youngest executive and the first woman to hold that job. She is also the first woman to lead a Nissan group country operation.
Gonzalez developed Nissan's Dealer Standards Improvement plan, which has been adopted by the company's sales units in other countries. She did so while at Nissan North America headquarters in Nashville as head of customer quality and dealer network development strategy. Gonzalez even sold cars for a time before joining Nissan Mexicana 15 years ago.
As she shifts from sales and marketing to the big picture, she's also focused on Mexico's strengths as a production and export center for global automakers.
Nissan brand produced 823,000 vehicles in Mexico last year and will head to around 1 million after the 2018 opening of its newest plant, a joint project between Daimler AG and the Renault-Nissan Alliance, Gonzalez said.
"We are going to be the first manufacturer to produce that level of volume," she added, with Mexico's overall production on pace to reach 5 million vehicles by 2020.
She spoke with Staff Reporter Laurence Iliff.
Q: How do you maintain Nissan as the local market leader after a record year in 2015?
A: There are a variety of factors, the first of which is that manufacturing in Mexico is very important, and not just because we're a strategic manufacturing point but also because a large part of our [production] volume stays in the domestic market.
Last year that was about 304,000 units for the domestic market and more than 518,600 that we exported to more than 50 countries, which is spectacular because when we see this level of volume staying in the local market, we see that Mexicans really value products made in Mexico. Today, five of the 10 best-selling cars in Mexico are Nissans and are nationally produced Nissans.
What steps is Nissan taking to face new competition arriving in Mexico, such as Hyundai?
We are taking various actions. One is to renovate our portfolio of products. That renovation is key. The other, obviously, concerns our network of distributors.
Our network is characterized as being the strongest, most complete and most specialized.
This distribution network has over 230 locations nationally and in 2009 we carried out a project to strengthen it and invested nearly $130 million in all aspects of infrastructure so that dealerships have the proper appearance, good processes, etc.
Our dealership network is without a doubt our strength.
What can be done to make it easier for people to buy new cars in Mexico?
The good thing about Mexico is there remains a market that can buy a car but doesn't know that it can. So we are going to show them how they can with all these new [credit] plans for different segments. Despite this being such a diverse culture and society, we still manage to find the right product with the right credit in the correct place.
What is the industry outlook in Mexico over the short, medium and long term?
In the short term, let's talk about this year. We see moderate growth because [sales] growth last year was at a catch-up pace for all the other years that we didn't grow. Now we've arrived this year at the level we should be at and I don't see us growing the same as last year. If we look at the future, I think the market has the potential to grow some 500,000 additional units to reach nearly 2 million if all of the economic factors and the political climate, etc., align.
Long-term in 2020 we are seeing that Mexico as a country will produce 5 million vehicles and Nissan will be producing a million beginning in 2018 [with the opening of the joint-venture plant with Daimler in Aguascalientes]. We are going to be the first manufacturer to produce that level of volume.