The past year of rough seas and management upheaval at Nissan's corporate level has translated into more strain on its dealers' balance sheets.
About 40 percent of U.S. dealers are losing money, or merely breaking even, Nissan National Dealer Advisory Board Chairman Scott Smith told Automotive News.
Nissan has been buffeted by turnover in its C-suites in both Japan and the United States, following the ouster of its longtime top executive Carlos Ghosn. Nissan is now coping with an aging product and eroding brand value. Nissan Division's U.S. sales slumped 8.7 percent to 1.22 million vehicles last year, in an overall market estimated to be down just 1.2 percent.
"Our profit is dead last in the industry," said Smith, president of Smith Automotive Group in Atlanta. "We are the lowest OEM in that regard."
If Nissan doesn't throw resources at the problem, sales will tumble further, he warned.
Those additional resources include greater marketing and incentive support and the factory's commitment to a faster product-development cadence.
"We have a product portfolio that's 15 to 18 months behind everyone else," Smith said. "Our competition's already beaten us to the market. When you are doing business with a stale product, no matter how good the engineering is, the brand value doesn't transfer to the consumer."
But the promise of a product offensive lies beyond the concerns hovering over Nissan's U.S. business.
Nissan expects to update about 70 percent of its models in the next 18 months. Redesigns of high-volume models, such as the Rogue, Frontier and Pathfinder, are planned for this year. And next year, Nissan is expected to deliver its first electric crossover to U.S. stores — one of eight future battery-powered models Nissan is planning globally.
Meanwhile, Nissan is working to shore up brand values and margins with a shift away from rental fleet sales and perennial discounting.
Smith remains optimistic that Nissan management will orchestrate a turnaround.
"The first step in solving a problem is recognizing you have one," Smith said. "Nissan has acknowledged the problem, and the leadership is committed to finding solutions."