In his first meeting with U.S. dealers, Nissan Motor Co.'s newly minted CEO Makoto Uchida faced a volley of pointed questions but offered few answers.
A group of nine retailers gathered in a conference room at Nissan North America's headquarters in Nashville and urged the visiting Uchida to take action on several fronts. They asked for faster product updates and greater marketing and incentive support, according to dealers at the meeting. They expressed frustration with slumping residual values and profitability at the Nissan brand, and they sought assurances of a game plan to lift Nissan's reputation in the U.S. from what some retailers have described as a "bargain-basement brand" perception.
Uchida, who must steer Nissan through an existential crisis, came to the dealer meeting seeking unvarnished feedback from the front lines.
"I want to know all the negatives," a dealer in the room quoted the CEO as saying. "I'm here to listen, don't hold anything back — even if it's hard for me to hear."
He got what he asked for.
"We gave him an hour and a half of reality," one of the dealers, who asked not to be identified, told Automotive News. "We didn't pull any punches. We were brutally honest."
Uchida, who took control of the global automaker on Dec. 1, called the meeting with the Americans at a critical time. Nissan's U.S. dealer partners are voicing new worries about its strategy and market performance in the brand's biggest market.
Nissan North America's U.S. sales tumbled 9.9 percent to 1.35 million vehicles last year, in an overall market estimated to be down just 1.2 percent. The automaker's U.S. market share, meanwhile, dropped to 7.9 percent last year, from 8.6 percent the prior year, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
The company has emphasized that the decline is partly a result of its decision to cut back on its sales to rental fleet customers. But retailers remain edgy.
Uchida acknowledged that the U.S. market could make or break the company, according to another dealer in the room.
"He was saying it will require a team of people to make this thing right, but that we'll get there," the dealer said.