LAS VEGAS – Nissan dealers in the U.S. have reason to be anxious about the future: The parent company in Japan calls the product portfolio “aged,” vehicle sales are down dramatically, job cuts are in the works and the former CEO is a fugitive from justice having been smuggled out of Japan while facing criminal charges of financial misconduct.
But David Kershaw, Nissan Division vice president-Sales & Regional Operations, puts a positive spin on the tone of today’s dealer meeting at the National Automobile Dealers Assn.’s annual convention and expo here.
“It’s a lot of noise that’s been out there, but we're focused and committed on growing retail volume and dealer profitability and growing share and doing it the right way,” Kershaw tells Wards after the franchise meeting with nearly 300 people in attendance. “That’s what we're focused on.”
Core to the plan forward is Nissan Drive 2020, a comprehensive initiative Kershaw (pictured below, left) announced this past week with a letter to Nissan’s 1,100 dealers in the U.S. ensuring enhanced incentives and increased marketing support – both points of contention among dealers.
“This plan really was designed to go from now until September when our all-new Rogue launches,” Kershaw says. “The dealers were incredibly excited about what we offered in this plan. They're excited about the direction.”
Franchise meetings are closed to media, but Kershaw describes all the questions posed during the meeting by dealers as “all very fair.”
Nissan (including luxury brand Infiniti) finished 2019 with 1.3 million vehicle sales in the U.S., down 9.9% from 2018 and down 15.5% from 2017’s total.
Wards Intelligence data paints a bleak sales picture for the Nissan brand: In 2019, nearly every nameplate sedan, utility vehicle and truck was down relative to 2018.
- Versa (-20%, No.2 in segment)
- Sentra (-5.5%, No.3 in segment)
- Altima (-10.5%, No.3 in segment)
- Leaf (-10.2%, well behind Chevy Bolt)
- Maxima (-22.6%, No.4 in segment)
- Pathfinder (-10.9%, No.4 in segment)
- Armada (-0.8%, last in segment)
- Frontier (-0.2%, No.3 in segment)
- Titan (-13.1%, last in segment)
A bright spot in Nissan’s lineup was the all-new Kicks compact CUV, which achieved 81,505 deliveries last year but trailed several more-popular vehicles.
The current-generation Rogue also is doing OK in the red-hot Middle CUV segment, even though it’s late in the life-cycle and will be replaced with a fully redesigned version later this year.
Kershaw is optimistic about prospects for the all-new Sentra that also is launching now and should get a marketing bump next month when Nissan advertises the sedan during the NCAA basketball tournament.
The Sentra is an important part of Nissan’s continued emphasis on sedans. “We’re committed to the sedan market,” he says. “Millennials are shopping for sedans now. We think we offer something really kind of for everybody within that market. So we still see sedans as an opportunity while some others may be vacating the segment.”
Although Nissan has persisted with the Titan fullsize pickup for years, the vehicle barely makes a dent in the segment. The truck has recently been refreshed for ’20 with a 400-hp V-8. “That’s going to be a game changer for us,” Kershaw says of the updated Titan.