TOKYO – Nissan Motor Co., battered from booking its first annual net loss in 11 years, aims to reboot its flagging fortunes with a retuned midterm plan that cuts billions in costs, slashes production capacity and trims the lineup to reemerge as a smaller, more profitable company.
Under the plan, called Nissan Next, Japan’s No. 2 automaker wants to cut 300 billion yen ($2.78 billion) in fixed costs and reduce global production capacity from 7.2 million to 5.4 million vehicles. Nissan will close plants in Indonesia and Spain, and realign its U.S. production footprint.
The reconfiguration will boost factory utilization to 80 percent, from around 70 percent today.
As part of the downsizing, Nissan will also trim the number of nameplates 20 percent to shrink the global lineup to under 55 models from 69. It will focus on a smaller number of more profitable core models and roll them out more quickly to bring the average portfolio age below 4 years.
The company plans to achieve the bulk of the targets in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2024. It said the measures should deliver a 9.1 percent global sales increase to 5.38 million vehicles by then.
CEO Makoto Uchida outlined the restructuring roadmap Thursday, while announcing that the company tumbled to a net loss in the full fiscal year ended March 31. Uchida said the drastic restructuring was needed to set the company back on a profit path after years of expanding too fast into too many markets in the pursuit of lofty sales volumes that never materialized.
“For Nissan to overcome this situation, we must admit our mistakes and correct course,” Uchida said, adding that Nissan executives would take various compensation cuts in light of the losses. “These steps need to be taken decisively and without compromise.”
U.S. product push
In the U.S. market, Nissan’s second biggest after China, Uchida conceded the campaign to improve the business, partly by shifting from profit-sapping fleet sales to retail, is a slow one.
“Although we are making efforts to improve net revenue per unit and to control incentives, it is taking significantly more time than initially expected,” said Uchida, who took office last December. “We are discovering the difficulty of restoring a brand that has been damaged.”
Uchida said U.S. operations should get a boost from a wave of fresh product, cuing off the redesigned Sentra sedan, that will include the next-generation Rogue, as well as a new Frontier pickup and a fresh Nissan Pathfinder crossover and Infiniti QX60. Uchida said the redesigned Rogue will be unveiled in June, while the production version of the Ariya pure EV crossover will debut in July. It was shown as a concept at last year’s Tokyo Motor Show.
Nissan said it had ample cash to weather the COVID-19 pandemic downturn and had arranged lines of credit just in case. But it withheld a financial forecast, citing economic uncertainty.
Among the numerical targets under Nissan Next, Uchida wants to achieve an operating profit margin of 5 percent and a sustainable market share of 6 percent by March 31, 2024. Given Nissan’s assumption for overall global volume then, the goal implies a sales target of around 5.38 million vehicles by then, up from 4.93 million units in the just-ended fiscal year.
Nissan said it has a global market share of 5.8 percent today.
The dour earnings were unveiled a day after Nissan and its alliance partners Renault and Mitsubishi fleshed out a new profitability drive called “leader-follower.” Under the new strategy, the three automakers will now divvy up technologies, segments and world markets into spheres of influence where one company leads, to avoid duplication and save resources.
The new model provides a framework for the companies to pursue their own midterm recovery plans as they battle imploding sales, plunging profits and costs for new technology.
Nissan’s own updated plan, devised by COO Ashwani Gupta in conjunction with Uchida, builds on a plan announced last July by then-CEO Hiroto Saikawa, who was already trying to stem the automaker’s plunging profits. Under that plan, Nissan targeted 12,500 job cuts worldwide.
Nissan did not give a figure for how many job losses would accompany the latest plans.
Rekindling the crucial U.S. business is Nissan’s top priority under the updated midterm plan. The company announced a leadership shuffle for the region this month. Regional Chairman Jose Valls will leave the company June 15, and his duties will be assumed by Jeremie Papin, Nissan's finance chief for North America.
Reeling in global production capacity is another key goal. Under former Chairman Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s capacity ballooned to 7.2 million vehicles a year. The new plan calls for cutting that to around 5.4 million units, more in line with actual sales.
Nissan Group’s U.S. sales tumbled 30 percent through March in an overall market that was down 12 percent. Its market share shrank to 7.3 percent from 9.1 percent. The Nissan brand fell 30 percent to 232,048 vehicles, while Infiniti slid 25.5 percent to 25,558.
Nissan’s cutback will entail the closures of the Barcelona, Spain, factory as well as the Indonesia plant where the company has already halted output. Other downsizing will focus on ending third shifts and closing lines. Nissan can bring capacity to 6 million through shift rationalization, Gupta said. To scale back further, to 5.4 million, will require deeper cuts of closing lines or plants.
Nissan said it would retain its Sunderland plant in the U.K. and “improve efficiency” there.
The automaker will end a third shift at its Smyrna, Tenn., plant and consolidate output of the Altima sedan at its Canton, Miss., factory. Currently, the Altima is made at both locations. The Murano crossover, currently made at Canton, is expected to shift to Smyrna.
On the product front, Nissan said it will introduce 12 new models worldwide over the next 18 months. In the U.S., the company will launch eight new models in the next 28 months. The rollout will reduce the average age of the product portfolio from above 5 years to close to 3 years.
Datsun will withdraw from Russia and remain in India and South Africa for the time being. The brand was already pulled from Indonesia, fueling speculation it will be killed off completely.
Nissan will also quit the South Korean market and lean heavily on alliance partners Renault and Mitsubishi while keeping a presence in Europe, South America and Southeast Asia.
With development of future pickups, Nissan is working with Mitsubishi to commonize powertrains, transmissions and modules between the Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton, Gupta said.
“Nissan will systematically right size operations or exit some other markets as we prioritize and focus,” Uchida said. “I will make every effort to return Nissan to a growth path.”
Globally, it will introduce eight pure EVs under the midterm plan and introduce its e-Power hybrid drivetrain technology to small and midsized vehicles across new regions. In the final year of the plan, Nissan wants to sell 1 million electrified vehicles. It wants electrified vehicles to chip in 60 percent of its sales in Japan, 23 percent in China and half its sales in Europe by then.
Nissan sank to an operating loss of 40.5 billion yen ($375.7 million) in the fiscal year ended March 31. It also tumbled to a net loss of 671.2 billion ($6.23 billion), its first in 11 years.
The net loss was inflated by a 603.0 billion ($5.59 billion) charge for impairment and restructuring under the new midterm plan. Revenue declined 14.6 percent to 9.88 trillion yen ($91.64 billion) in the fiscal year, while global retail sales fell 10.6 percent to 4.93 vehicles.
Nissan was already hurting before the COVID-19 pandemic hammered global sales and forced the company to suspend production at sites worldwide. The company was struggling to adjust a glut of production capacity and fine tune its incentive and fleet strategy in the U.S. Even before the pandemic hit, Nissan had issued two downward revisions to its profit outlook.
But Nissan blamed the pandemic for sending year-end results even lower.
Nissan’s U.S. assembly plants, which have been offline since April, will begin a gradual ramp up of production starting June 1. Nissan put thousands of workers on unpaid furlough.
Nissan’s losses come amid similarly hardships at its alliance partners.
Renault, which updates on its own 2 billion euros ($2.20 billion) cost-saving plan on May 29, has already said its global sales plunged 26 percent to 673,000 units in the January-March quarter, pushing revenue down 19 percent. Renault suspended its full-year profit guidance.
Mitsubishi reported earlier this month that it slumped to a net loss of 25.8 billion yen ($239.3 million) in its full fiscal year ended March 31, as operating profit tumbled 89 percent.