NASHVILLE -- Some Nissan dealers might be disgruntled with the automaker as it pushes for higher store volumes and a bigger U.S. market share.
But Jose Munoz, Nissan's chairman for North America, has a clear message to those dealers: That push isn't going to stop.
"Nobody can say that Nissan stands still," Munoz, 50, told Automotive News in an in-depth interview. "So we are not going to stop. We're going to continue. We believe the company has more potential, as we have seen in other markets where we operate. That's why we continue to invest.
"We have aspirations to continue to grow."
Munoz and his team have 10 months left to deliver a 10 percent U.S. market share for Nissan and Infiniti by the end of March 2017, a goal set in 2011 by Nissan Motor Co. CEO Carlos Ghosn. They are almost there: Through May, the automaker had a 9.2 percent share.
Munoz said the push for growth will continue even after Nissan reaches 10 percent.
Its inch-by-inch climb from an 8.2 percent share five years ago has alienated some retailers, who feel the company has been too focused on volume at the expense of brand and franchise value.
Munoz said a small number of Nissan retailers are unhappy with the fast pace that he and his management team have taken to make Nissan a more serious threat to import-brand leader Toyota. But he predicted that dealers soon will agree that the company has brought them better products, more sales, higher profits, more fixed-operations business, better marketing and improved customer satisfaction.
"Always, there are dealers who have a different perception, and we'll accept that," Munoz told Automotive News. "But the vast majority of dealers tell us they are happy. That is the message that comes through both our national dealer advisory board and our regional advisory boards. From our side, we are going to continue to do the best to try to use the recommendations they give us to grow the business.
"As we keep increasing sales, as your mix improves, your fixed operations improve, step by step, these elements are getting better," he said.
Munoz, a native of Spain who was recruited from Toyota, said he witnessed a similar pattern when he ran Nissan's operations in Mexico. As he raised Nissan's market share there to nearly 25 percent and recruited dealers willing to modernize their stores and adopt a more sophisticated image, some retailers complained.
"We also went through some ins and outs there in the beginning," Munoz said. "But once it was over, and Nissan continued to grow, continued to launch new models, as the mix improved, profitability improved, fixed operations improved, and the leadership was confirmed, we didn't hear many negative comments.
"We'll continue to do our best," Munoz said of the U.S. mission, "working hard, because we know that when the dealer network is more profitable, it's better for Nissan."
Munoz took issue with some of the criticism leveled at Nissan in recent months.
He said the Nissan franchise value is rising, contrary to claims by some retail brokers that it is lower than it should be, considering its sales volumes.
"When some dealers have expressed an interest in continuing with Nissan and they want to buy another store, for the most part, the multiples they have had to pay have been significantly higher over the past three years," Munoz said. "I have told dealers that if you want to grow, now is the time to buy."
He also dismissed reports that Nissan has designated certain individuals or retail groups as "preferred dealers," eligible for preferential treatment over other Nissan dealers.
"Nissan does not have preferred dealers. We don't use such a term internally," Munoz said.
"But it's true that it's our intention to try to support those who are interested and willing to invest more in different sites and keep working. But this is open to anybody."
Munoz emphasized that Nissan does not intend to ease off of the push for more sales beyond March 2017.
"Having a very clear objective like that," he said of the 10 percent target, "has been a motivation for everybody."