Me Too? Nissan, Infiniti Also Want to Tear Off Huge Chunks of US Market

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Many other auto brands are pinning their hopes for global gains on a continued strengthening of the US market and their position in it. So why not Nissan and its Infiniti luxury brand? The chiefs of both brands are expressing their intentions to leapfrog other marques in the next few years in large part by persuading more Americans to buy them.

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said that he has ordered his team to double Nissan’s sales in the US by 2017. If Ghosn also means to double market share, that would give Nissan about a 15 percent chunk of American car sales within three years, compared with its 7.7 percent share and sales of 1.1 million units last year, up in volume by 5 percent over the previous year.

With the European market difficult for its sibling Renault brand and other national arenas, including China, proving somewhat iffier, Ghosn has focused on his disappointment with Nissan’s recent sales performance in the US and has vowed to correct it. Much of the problem stemmed from difficult and late launches of the redesigned bread-and-butter sedan, the Nissan Altima, and other new models last year.[more]

“We really stress-tested our company, and we didn’t quite make it,” Colin Dodge, executive vice president in charge of the Americas, told Automotive News. “It was far short of our potential. This year we’ve got quite an aggressive plan,” which is increasing US sales by 12 percent for the brand to 1.3 million units. Sales in April were promising, up 23 percent over a year ago.

But even though Nissan apparently has straightened out its production bottlenecks, there are some other obstacles to Ghosn’s one-year and four-year ambitions. In regard to 2013, for example, the only significant launches for the brand are new versions of the Rogue crossover, which is a high-volume nameplate, and the middling-volume Versa small car. Given the oversized importance of new-product offerings to generate sales bumps, will those be enough this year to support the kind of sales growth Ghosn is demanding, even with smooth launches?

Moreover, Nissan’s rivals would also like to boost US sales, some of them with significant aims, especially given that somehow the American market has become just about the most reliable in the world these days.

Infiniti actually has a stiffer test than Nissan in its plans to boost sales, given the aggressive aims laid out for the American market by premium-segment rivals including Lexus, Acura, Volvo and the German and American luxury brands.

Nevertheless, Infiniti chief Johan de Nysschen—who bolted to Infiniti from Audi of America last year—has decreed the brand’s intention to sell 600,000 units by around 2020, more than triple Infiniti’s sales of 170,000 last year. Sales to US consumers will have to be a big part of any formula to reach that goal.

The new boss also wants to cover 90 percent of all global premium segments with Infiniti entries by the end of the decade compared with just under 60 percent today. Such audacious goals are very reminiscent of the high bars that De Nysschen set for Audi in the US and generally succeeded to reach.

To help accomplish such a leap, Infiniti plans, among other things, to introduce a top-tier “halo” nameplate above its current Q70 flagship sedan and to expand its crossover offerings.

Meanwhile, for Nissan, little things keep adding up to positives that will boost confidence as the brand embarks on Ghosn’s plan. Sales of its Leaf all-electric model have been surging lately off a small base, in large part due to the availability of a new, lower-priced version of the nameplate. Nissan just notched a deal to build and “rebadge” a version for Chevrolet of its all-new NV200 utility van for fleets; the Chevy rendition of the Mexico-built van will be called Chevrolet City Express.

And on Saturday when Nissan celebrates a decade of manufacturing vehicles at its Canton, Miss., plant, Kool & the Gang will be performing a concert. How cool is that?

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