Nissan North America Inc. is entering an era of promise, says its newly appointed sales chief.
Multiple product launches in 2007, piggybacked on the momentum of late-year debuts in 2006, point toward success in 2008, says Mark McNabb.
“We'll continue to see the growth that we're at today,” McNabb says of Nissan's 5.5% January-October U.S. sales increase to 898,194 units.
Nissan expects to surpass 1 million unit sales in 2007, as it has done the last two years.
But the auto maker will build its own road to success, says McNabb, who is wary of hybrid hype and incentive wars.
McNabb returned to Nissan in March following a 2-year stint as vice president-sales operations at Mercedes-Benz USA Inc.
He replaced Brad Bradshaw, who left NNA for unspecified reasons. To date, McNabb has little to complain about. Through the first 10 months, Nissan gained an additional 0.5% of market share compared with 2006. Meanwhile, Infiniti deliveries jumped 6.3%.
The auto maker got a big boost from the reengineered Nissan Altima midsize sedan, which launched late last year, and the new Altima Coupe, which debuted in early summer.
Through October, Altima sales rose 26.6% to 239,800 units vs. like-2006, according to Ward's data — good enough to rank fifth among the best-selling passenger cars in the U.S. However, it still lags main competitors the Toyota Camry and the new-for-'08 Honda Accord.
“I don't really look at where we are ranking in volume,” McNabb says of the Altima's standing. “I make sure that I can deliver a volume in the most profitable fashion. If I rank sixth and can do it more profitably than fourth, that's better for me.”
Nissan also added a hybrid-electric version of the Altima this year, but only in the eight U.S. states with the most stringent emissions requirements.
Some 6,245 vehicles have been sold thus far, on par with Nissan 8,000-unit annual goal. But McNabb isn't convinced that hybrid-electric vehicles have staying power.
“Hybrids (are) a big question for me,” he says. “Only one hybrid model is up (significantly) year-over-year, and that's been (the Toyota) Prius.
“Where hybrid is and where it's going, I'm not sure yet. We have hybrid, we have it in our plan, but we also have diesel in our plan.”
Nissan announced in April it would retail a diesel version of its next-generation Maxima sedan in 2010, using a Renault SA-built V-6 engine that Nissan co-developed.
Nissan in 2007 also debuted its second-generation Infiniti G35 luxury sport sedan. Its sales were up 23.7% through October to 59,005 units, a greater year-on-year increase than the segment-leading BMW 3-Series, although the G35's volume was about half of the 3-Series (117,968 units) in the period.
“We're seeing huge growth, 20%-25% growth per month, year-over-year,” McNabb says of the new G35's performance. “We've been pretty happy with it.”
In September, a new coupe version of the G35 — the G37 — went on sale. The name comes from the 3.7L V-6 under its hood.
The new mill is a derivative of Nissan's VQ V-6 engine series, a 13-time Ward's 10 Best Engines winner.
“(In September), we were the segment leader with the G37 coupe, which was fantastic,” McNabb says of the win over the 2-door Beemer.
Nissan also has seen great success with its smallest car, the Nissan Versa subcompact, which sold 67,668 units through October, just behind the segment-leading Toyota Yaris that sold 73,874.
For the months of August, September and October, the Versa pulled ahead of the Yaris, which pleases McNabb.
“We've been the segment leader over the last couple months,” he says. “There's not a lot of segments where we can say that.”
Like the Yaris, there are hatchback and sedan versions of the Versa. The hatchback has proven more popular than originally expected, comprising 60%-65% of Versa sales.
McNabb says he believes the sedan still is viable and Nissan will review how the vehicle is packaged in an effort to increase sales.
Other vehicles Nissan is focusing on include the Sentra compact, launched in October 2006, and Titan fullsize pickup truck, a refreshed version of which went on sale in May to help fend off the new Toyota Tundra.
McNabb says both models are on his to-do list, as their sales have faltered in 2007.
“One of the things I've started looking into, (the) Sentra in particular, is why is it we're not doing a better job with this vehicle. What's holding it back, so to speak?”
Sales of the compact Sentra sales were off 10.9% through October, and McNabb suggests rising subcompact sales or poor marketing as possible explanations.
Titan sales slipped 9.4% through October to 55,960 units, just over half of Nissan's original full-year sales goal of 100,000 units.
“Again, we'll look at how we packaged the vehicle,” McNabb says. “And certainly simplifying it is one (tactic) we're working on today.”
He also admits Nissan's incentive strategy may have hurt the Titan's competitiveness in the marketplace.
“We were by far the lowest player in the incentive game for quite some time,” he says.
“We've certainly gotten a little bit more aggressive in the last several months but we need to keep watching (the) Titan. Titan is important to us, but we won't chase the volume for volume's sake. We'll chase it if it's profitable. If we find it's not profitable, we won't chase it.”
On the dealer side, McNabb says the Infiniti channel has added just a “few extra markets” this year, with no new stores for the Nissan brand.
Nissan and Infiniti dealers in the U.S. both sell about 800 units per outlet, he says.
Nissan dealers next year will be given the opportunity to sell what will become the brand's halo car, the GT-R sports car, sold for years in Japan with great notoriety.
McNabb says dealer training will begin in the next several months.
Without offering details, he hints of a program to “make sure that the GT-R customers are treated special.”
As for skeptics who say a high-priced vehicle can't or shouldn't be sold through the Nissan channel, McNabb points to the Chevrolet Corvette.
“Corvette's been able to be sold through the Chevy channels and done quite well,” he says.