Curbside Newsstand/2019 US Auto Sales Coverage, Part 2: Nissan’s New CEO Has a Lot of Work Ahead of Him – Nissan Group Sales Down 9.9 Percent

Nissan’s had a rough go of it lately. Former CEO Carlos Ghosn wanted the company to gain market share in America by the end of the 2010s. Nissan achieved that goal, but their incentive-based strategy detonated their profitability. To make matters worse, the Nissan lineup is a bit stale. Infiniti isn’t in good shape either. Unlike Subaru, Nissan has some tough times ahead.

Nissan ended the year with a 7.9% slice of the American market. That’s down substantially from the previous year, when the company managed to capture 8.6% of the pie. Basically, there were only a few bright spots in the Nissan lineup. The recently redesigned Altima held its ground and managed to sell 36 more examples in 2019 compared to the year before, for a total of 209,183 sold. That’s a respectable achievement in a declining segment. Perhaps adding all-wheel drive stemmed the bleeding? Anyway, the other model with an unquestionably positive sales figure was the NV full-size van. It sold 20,022 last year, which represented an 18.46% increase from 2018. Finally, the NV200 – aka NYC’s taxi cab of choice – convinced an additional 140 buyers to take one home last year, for a grand total of 18,768.

The Kicks also performed well, but doesn’t exactly qualify as a “bright spot” because production was likely still ramping up in 2018. That explains the roughly 150% increase from the prior year. Nissan sold 58,193 examples in 2019, which is right in line with what other automakers accomplished with their subcompact crossovers.

Every other Nissan model was down, and most by double digits. For some inexplicable reason, Nissan lumps the compact Rogue and subcompact Rogue Sport (aka Qashqai) together, so its not clear what model under-performed. Regardless, the company sold 350,447 of them last year, which was about 15% less than what they accomplished in 2018. Murano sales declined about 18% to 68,361. It’s an older entry in a segment that has seen new contenders in the last year or so, which likely explains the drop. The Sentra and Versa also experienced double digit drops compared to 2018, but the former is at the tail end of its current iteration and the latter was recently redesigned, so those losses are a bit more acceptable.

Perhaps most apparent is Nissan’s near-complete failure to penetrate the full-size pickup segment. With a 37.5% decline in sales from 2018, the Titan only found 31,514 homes last year. The redesigned Titan barely moved more than 50,000 units per year after its introduction. It’s doubtful we’ll see another generation of the truck.

By contrast, the Frontier is quite popular. Sales were down about 9% but Nissan still managed to sell just over 72,000 of them in 2019. Given the Frontier’s age, that’s an impressive number.

It was a bloodbath at Infiniti. Every single model sold experienced a decline in sales compared to 2018. The only models with single digit decreases were the Infiniti QX60 and QX80. The QX80 held its ground with a less than 1% decrease in sales. Everything else performed poorly. The entire brand is down 21% for 2019.

Nissan fared quite poorly in 2019. It’s tumultuous relationship with Renault likely resulted in FCA ditching the group for PSA. The American market cannot rely on the sales practices of years past, which relied on heavy incentives, substantial fleet sales, and subprime buyers. To his credit newly-appointed CEO Makoto Uchida seems up for the challenge. His plan for turning Nissan USA around is to shoot for 2018’s sales figure by 2023, but without all the profit-destroying practices instituted under Ghosn. Part of that goal relies on shorter product cycles:

“If you go beyond five or six years, that is a little bit aging,” Uchida said. “We need a more rapid cycle. If you look at China and see the local brands, their speed is very, very fast.”

A key component of Nissan’s turnaround will hinge on electric vehicles. The company plans to introduce an electric crossover in 2021. It will debut a new twin-motor, electric all-wheel drive system, dubbed e-4FORCE, which was just introduced at CES. The system is designed to deliver engaging driving dynamics, advanced regenerative braking, and sophisticated all-weather traction. In any event, the new CEO has a lot of work to do.

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CC Editorial: Infiniti – What They’re Doing Right, What They’re Doing Wrong by William Stopford