New York — Although many anxious domestic-brand auto dealers are biting their nails these days, Nissan retailers are less edgy.
That's not to say they're in a state of bliss. But their nerves aren't as frayed as many of their General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC brand counterparts.
“Our dealers are nervous about the market, but we've had some positive feedback from them,” says Brian Carolin, senior vice president-sales for Nissan North America Inc.
For one thing, Nissan dealers are grateful “we haven't pushed cars on them” in a soft year that is far from a seller's market, he tells Ward's at the auto show here. “We swallowed that pain in the factory.”
Nissan did that by rapidly cutting production at factories in Tennessee and Mexico after seeing early signs last year that U.S. auto sales were in a meltdown. “We needed to change things quickly, and we did,” Carolin says.
When fullsize light trucks lost favor — and sales — as fuel prices hit $4 a gallon last summer, Nissan rushed in with “aggressive” incentives on big vehicles such as its Titan pickup and Armada SUV, he says. “It brought inventory down fast.”
It left Nissan dealers with a 62 days' supply at a time when Toyota dealers averaged 90 and GM dealers were well over 100.
“There's a truism that the first loss is the lowest loss,” Carolin says. “We moved quickly and suffered less pain.”
Nissan's U.S. sales were off 11.1% in 2008 compared with 2007, but its market share increased from 6.6% to 7.2%, according to Ward's data.
This year's goal is “to protect our share,” Carolin says. “Dealers feel good about our lineup.”
The Altima sedan has become a mainstay, and the new Rogue cross/utility is becoming a core model, he says.
Plans are proceeding with a new-generation Titan for next year, although sales have never been particularly stellar for the truck, even in good years. Nissan sold 34,053 units in 2008. In contrast, Ford Motor Co. sold 1.2 million F-150s pickups.
“There is a strong business case for that product to continue,” Carolin says of the Titan. “Dealers continue to tell us they want it. It's been profitable for them and us. Our share is small, but we want to be a player in that segment.”