In this month's now-famous press conference from Beirut, fugitive former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn was exasperated over the sudden reversal of his reputation in Japan.
"They discover I'm a dictator in 2018? For 17 years I am the CEO of the company, I had 20 books," he said, referring to the attention and respect he had garnered in guiding Nissan. "I had so many cases in Harvard, Stanford … all of the professors analyzing this."
To be sure, there's something fishy in Japanese prosecutors' case against Ghosn, which now looks like it will never be tried. And there's no doubt that Ghosn saved the automaker after he was dispatched by Renault to Japan in 1999.
But if anyone is analyzing Nissan's record in the United States over the past decade, chances are it won't be for a case study on how to manage a business.
Early in 2011, after an earthquake and tsunami ravaged Japan, Ghosn went on the attack.
The natural disasters had waylaid Honda and Toyota more than they had Nissan, and an opportunity landed in Ghosn's lap.
Before long, he set his sights on capturing 10 percent of the U.S. market for Nissan and Infiniti. That would be more than a 2-point increase from Nissan's 2010 levels, in a world where winning even a fraction of that can be reason for celebration.
The costs of Nissan's market-share-or-else strategy have been abundantly chronicled in the pages of Automotive News over the years. It led to a dependence on profit-sapping fleet sales and stair-step incentive programs. Residual values suffered, as did Nissan's scores in dealer surveys. Some dealers abandoned the franchise. So did executives — a number of whom now lead Nissan's rivals.
Nissan did manage to hit that 10 percent mark, in four separate months over the course of 2016-18.
During the second of those months, February 2017, Ghosn stepped down as CEO and kept his chairman's title. Before long, his successor, Hiroto Saikawa, was stating the obvious: In its relentless quest for share, Nissan was crippling itself.
It had to be one of the most searing public indictments of a boss' performance this industry has ever seen.
In its place came a new strategy aimed at shoring up profits. The company would attempt to discard its fleet and incentive crutches and ease up on dealer pressure. The focus would shift to quality sales and strengthening the brand.
For now, at least, Nissan appears willing to take the hit as it stays that course.
A 30 percent sales plunge in December brought its market share to 7.9 percent for the year.
That's just one-tenth of a point above where it stood in 2010, before the audacious 10 percent goal was announced.
To put that decline in perspective: Nissan just exited one of the most prosperous decades in U.S. automotive history in a decidedly weak position.
Silver lining? You might find a grim one in the latest Haig Report, which measures dealership sales in the U.S.
In the first nine months of 2019, 11 percent of dealerships that changed hands were Nissan stores — up from just 6 percent a year earlier.
"Perhaps this franchise has reached the bottom and now might be the time to acquire one for far less than even a year or two ago," the report said.
That sounds upbeat. But it's hardly the stuff professors look for when they're searching the U.S. auto industry for examples of excellence.