It's in good enough shape to ask dealers to go exclusive Nissan, which has seen worse days, is on a roll - such a roll, in fact, that for the first time in its nearly 40-year history on the U.S. market it is strongly advising its U.S. Nissan dealers to go exclusive.
Empowered by a dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of Nissan Motor Co. in Japan, the North American wing is formulating that new dealer strategy for its Nissan division. Nissan's luxury Infiniti division vehicles are already sold at one-franchise showrooms.
"Dealer profits are up appreciably for both Nissan and Infiniti this year as we enter a big new-product era that should expand our reach even further," says Jed Connelly, senior vice president for sales and marketing for Nissan Motor Corp. USA.
"We had our bad patches with products before 1999. Then the Xterra, new Maxima and Frontier Crew Cab arrived, and we are on track now with the full blessing of Carlos Ghosn (who was put in charge of Nissan after Renault bought a controlling interest in the Japanese automaker)."
The idea of spinning off dual franchises to make Nissan a one-franchise showroom like Infiniti came as Mr. Ghosn was unwrapping another big North American project - a truck and SUV assembly in Mississippi, near Jackson.
A full-size truck Nissan is planning for a 2003-model rollout will be built in Mississippi. It will follow introduction this year of what Mr. Connelly calls a "totally" restyled Altima with its first V-6 engine for 2002 as well as the revival of the famed "Z" roadster.
Nissan dealers sought the full-size truck to rival the Toyota Tundra.
A full-size bed also is coming next year on the Frontier Crew Cab, a vehicle that Nissan dealers say is drawing interest from the tough-to-sell younger generation.
"We definitely have become more competitive," declares Mr. Connelly, who first joined Nissan in 1989 as marketing manager of the then-new Infiniti division after stints with Sterling and Volkswagen.
"Until the trio of new models in '99, and Renault's involvement, we and our dealers had been coasting. Now we can look forward to improved business processes and a host of competing products going forward, including a supercharged Infiniti Q45 and the first real update for the Altima - our best seller in the tough compact segment."
Mr. Connelly says Renault's impact on Nissan Motor was not expected to be fully felt so early. But Mr. Ghosn's November announcement of a six-month profit of $1.59 billion "gave us a big lift."
Moving Sentra production from Tennessee to one of Nissan's two Mexican plants "has worked out extremely well," says Mr. Connelly. (Xterra, Frontier and Altimas now are produced at the Tennessee plant.)
Asked if Nissan would pursue its own Five Star or Blue Oval dealer awards program, as several dealers have heard, Mr. Connelly agreed that an "upgrading" initiative with exclusive facilities and customer satisfaction could be acceptable now that sales and the product lineup have improved.
"When Mr. Ghosn met our dealers," says Mr. Connelly, "he clearly outlined what his priorities were and asked them what theirs were. The Nissan dealers said first a full-size truck and second a larger V-6 Altima. For Infiniti it was a power-packed Q45."
Mr. Ghosn quickly agreed.
"The dealers really warmed up to him," says Mr. Connelly. "He knows the important role of the U.S. for Nissan and respects the value of sound dealer relations."