Nissan is facing a test of its will in the U.S.
The automaker has vowed for a year that it will reduce its past reliance on heavy retail incentives and its often-contentious dealer bonus programs to move metal and build market share.
But suddenly, the market is coming back after a ruinous year for industry sales. And Nissan is turning to dealer volume incentives again as it sees an opportunity to improve its U.S. market share.
Last month, Nissan reinstated its dealer sales-objective program — often referred to in the industry as stair-step — that financially rewards retailers for hitting specific sales volume targets.
Late last week, dealers received their incentive targets for September. The sales objectives have some dealers grumbling again.
"In the last five months, dealers went through the addiction recovery process because we haven't had objectives," said Tyler Slade, operating partner at Tim Dahle Nissan Southtowne in suburban Salt Lake City. "Now we're right back to our crack cocaine."
That's not what Nissan wants, and it's not the message that the automaker's senior executives in the U.S. and Japan are now emphasizing.
"We want to continue to be reasonable and work with the dealers," David Kershaw, Nissan Division vice president of sales and regional operations, told Automotive News last week. "A healthy dealer body with healthy profitability is key to our success."
But some retailers see the automaker on a slippery slope. Georgia dealer David Basha said his factory objectives for September jumped 21 percent over his August targets, even though September sales historically are about 85 percent of August's.
"We just barely made last month's sales goal," said Basha, owner of Carriage Nissan near Atlanta. "To me, it looks like the same old game of escalating objectives. We should have gotten a two-to-three-vehicle increase; instead, we got an increase of about 10 vehicles."